Black Friday. Small Business Saturday. Cyber Monday. All can be fantastic shopping days, full of amazing deals. But the single biggest deal during the holidays could actually be someone else’s—if they are successful in stealing your credit cards or identity.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime in America, impacting more than 10 million victims per year. In fact, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the holidays offer thieves the greatest opportunity to steal your credit, turning it into a gift that keeps on taking from you in terms of time, energy and anguish all year long.

Be Proactive About Your Credit

Here are just a few good ways you can be more proactive about protecting your credit during the busy holiday shopping season:

  • Use credit monitoring. Monitoring your credit reports is always a good idea, as mistakes can be made and easily corrected if you are vigilant. If you notice any unusual purchases or activity on your credit report, you can minimize the damage if you act quickly so that a fraud alert may be placed on your credit report with all three major credit reporting bureaus. Report any unauthorized purchases or new accounts to all three credit bureaus immediately—and file an identity theft report with the police as well.
  • Freeze it. If you have lost your credit cards, or they have been stolen, report the incident to each of your creditors immediately. They will send you a new card in a matter of days—and freeze or cancel your old ones. If you wish to proceed using only cash during the holidays, you can temporarily freeze your credit until you feel safe enough to use it again.
  • Make secure purchases. Online deals are great, but not if they put your credit at risk. Look for the TRUSTe privacy seal at the bottom of a secure website—and make sure that the URL contains “https” as a prefix to indicate encrypted data security.
  • Avoid public Wi-Fi. Your data can be seen or swiped from public Wi-Fi data connections, so you should only make purchases on a secure network. You should also use care when making purchases over the phone, as others may be close enough to capture your credit card details without you even noticing.
  • Use “See ID” as your signature. Instead of signing your name on the back of each credit card, consider using the phrase “See ID” instead. This will force a thief to produce a photo identification card that will not match—and likely result in their being caught red-handed.

Most of all, you should pay attention during your holiday shopping adventures. With all of the sales and distractions—not to mention bumping into people you haven’t seen in a while—it’s easy to become disoriented or forgetful, leaving your credit cards vulnerable to thieves.

Thieves could be several purchases in before you even realize your cards are missing, so stay alert and keep your cards close by in a cross-body bag, hip sack or front pants pocket. That way, you can best ensure that your holidays will also bring the gift of peace of mind.

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