NEW YORK - Identity theft is simply the biggest of consumer catastrophes, and it's on the rise. Last year, ID theft hit a record 15 million Americans, costing $16 billion.
But while you're shopping in the malls or online this holiday season, there are ways you can guard your green if you take some simple precautions.
First, ditch the debit card. Really, the only time you should use it is at the ATM.
If your debit card is ripped off, thieves can empty your bank account in seconds. And even if you catch the fraud, banks will freeze your card, making getting cash from an ATM impossible. Use credit or even cash instead.
And at point of sale, credit reporting giant Experian advises you resist handing over your credit card to the clerk. Instead, you swipe or chip it.
And when a clerk asks you for personal info at point of sale, including emails and phone numbers, politely decline. The less info a retailer has, the better. Remember, they get hacked too.
Experian also advises signing up for credit or debit card alerts. That way, every time your card is used, you get an immediate text on your phone. That means you'll know about any fraudulent charges immediately.
When shopping online, don't use the same username and password at different retailers. That way, if a scammer hacks one retailer, they can't access your account at other shopping websites.
Finally, check your credit report. This way, you'll see if you've had your ID stolen. You get one freebie per year.
CLICK HERE for more tips from Experian, and have a happy -- and safe -- shopping season.
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