By Jill Jaracz


5 Min. To Read

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Your inbox is full of shopping deals, and you've scoped out Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales. Maybe you have a new rewards card in your wallet and you're planning to use it to qualify for a sweet signing bonus. You're ready for holiday shopping.

Or are you?

Shopping smart isn't just about getting the best deal. It also means you're doing what you can to keep your personal information safe and away from hackers.

This year's shopping season is a lot shorter than last year's—just 26 days, compared to last year's 32 days, according to Mastercard Spending Pulse. The compressed shopping season may mean you're shopping more often, so it's important to make sure you regularly compare your receipts to the transactions listed on your credit card account. Doing this regularly throughout the holiday season will not only help you stay within your spending budget, but it will also flag fraudulent spending faster.

You can also stay on top of your transactions with a spending alert service from your credit card issuer. While getting lots of texts and emails about items you've just purchased can be annoying, it's worth it if you instantly discover your card number has been stolen and used. Then you can quickly freeze or cancel your card and prevent someone from racking up a huge balance in your name.

If you're shopping online—and according to the National Retail Federation, at least 56 percent of holiday shoppers plan to do at least some of their shopping online—make sure you do it safely.

The National Cyber Security Alliance (NCSA) says one of the biggest ways to expose yourself is to use public Wi-Fi to shop online. While public Wi-Fi is great, it also allows people to get into your phone or device pretty easily. Wait until you can get a secure connection—whether it's a private Wi-Fi, a VPN or a mobile hotspot—before mobile shopping.

Luckily, online fraud protection is important to most online shoppers, says credit bureau TransUnion in its latest Holiday Retail Fraud Survey. Using multifactor authentication, tough-to-crack passwords and mobile device security measures like biometric authentication can also help prevent fraud.

It's easy to fall into the convenience trap when shopping online. Retailers allow you to save your payment information to make it easier to shop with them. The NCSA actually cautions against saving your information on a retailer's site and using autofill features, because if a retailer gets hacked, your information has just been stolen.

"Retailers need to do all they can to ensure transactions are secure and seamless for all consumers. While a good portion of the population is fine with extra verification steps, a lot of them seek an experience that is less intrusive. Retailers that leverage solutions that provide a positive, yet secure experience, will win this holiday season," stated TransUnion's head of global fraud and identity solutions, Geoff Miller.

The NCSA advises consumers to slow down when shopping online because this is the time of year fraudsters go to town with setting up fake ecommerce sites and sending spam with links to "unbelievable" deals that turn out to be phishing scams.

If you see a great deal in an email, first make sure the email is from a legitimate company. If you've never heard of the company, look for an address and a phone number on its website and call it to make sure it's real. If a product is offered through a link, don't click on the link. Instead, go to the company's website directly and look for the product there. Clicking on the link could be a phishing scam that could cost you your holiday spending budget.

The NCSA also recommends using credit cards for your purchases rather than debit cards. Credit cards offer many consumer protections, plus they don't allow criminals to drain your bank account. If you want to protect your credit card numbers, you can also use a third-party service like a mobile wallet that doesn't share your card number with a merchant.

Keep these tips in mind while you shop this year, and they may keep your holidays merry and bright.

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