With the luxury of comparing price and selection through the World Wide Web, your holiday shopping options are endless. But with online shopping, comes the potential for identity theft. ‘Tis the season to shower family and friends with gifts, but it is also the perfect time of year for identity thieves to make their move. "It's prime time for desperate people to find ways of getting free money, is the best way to say it," said Adam Herendeen of First Citizens Bank. Last year alone, identity thieves stole more than one billion dollars and involved more than 10 million consumers. And on top of clearing out your bank account, some commit traffic violations or even felonies using stolen names. And the problem, thanks to this year's economy, is getting worse. But there are ways to avoid becoming a victim. When shopping online, choose credit over debit. Thieves can clean out your debit checking account before you even realize there is a problem. Consider shopping with a disposable credit card, available from Visa or American Express. They work just like a gift card, and can be used anywhere that accepts credit cards. Shop on sites you know and trust, even if that means spending a few extra bucks. You may find that sites offer amazing deals, but they might not be secure. Do not shop or store any personal information on public computers, like at work or a library. You do not know who is getting on the computer next. Check your credit report at least once a year to ensure your credit has not been compromised. Look at bank statements to make sure the charges were made by you. And of course, shred any personal documents you no longer need. Dumpster diving is an easy way thieves can learn a lot about you, fast. If you think you might be a victim of identity theft, it is important to take action fast. Call one of the three credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Equifax, or Esperian. Close all accounts you suspect have been tampered with, and contact the security or fraud department of each company. You should also file a police report and contact the Federal Trade Commission and fill out the affidavit for proof of your claim.
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