It’s been an interesting and record-breaking year for data breaches, technically beginning in the fall of last year with the infamous Backoff malware that attacked Target, Home Depot, and a host of other corporations and businesses. And while shoppers would be within their rights to be a little more cautious about shopping this holiday season, the annual ITRC Aftermath report clearly showed that 94.2% of identity theft victims are still as connected as ever to their internet and mobile behaviors, including shopping online. 

As the holidays approach and the busiest retail period of the year comes along—interesting fact, it’s called “Black Friday” because it is the single shopping day that will help put businesses “in the black” for the year—shoppers can take some very proactive steps to protect themselves and their identities.

Footage of the Black Friday chaos makes headlines every year, but it doesn’t have to be crazy, especially where your finances are concerned. Many of the larger stores have already made their Black Friday sales circulars available online, and some of them have even posted maps of their stores that indicate where these items are located. Preplanning can give you a better sense of what to buy and where to find it, meaning when it comes time to check out, you’ll have a better idea of how much you’ll spend.

Use this time right now to not only plan out your purchases, but to take important steps for how you’ll pay. You might consider a prepaid credit card so that your actual credit cards aren’t vulnerable during this time, either to physical theft or hacking. Of course, having a prepaid card also means you can’t overspend.

Beware, however, since the cards do have fees associated with them, which are listed in the fine print on the back of the original packaging. Read each brand carefully and make sure you’re getting the best option for this one-day event. Of course, prepaid cards mean exactly that: your money is on there. If the card itself goes missing while you’re shopping, so does your money.

If you want to use your own credit card, keep a couple of things in mind. First, if possible, use a credit card that already has little or no balance, and try to put all of your purchases on that one card. Not only will you have one credit card to pay off once your shopping is done, you’ll also have only been exposing one credit card to POS systems, those card readers at the checkouts that were hacked in the Backoff attack. 

Finally, if you’re using your own card, make sure you use the one that offers you the most return rewards, whether it is points, cash back, gas credits, air miles, or any other incentives. With a higher than usual volume of spending for the holidays, make sure you’re rewarded for your loyalty and responsibility.

According to the 2014 Tech Buying Trends Research conducted by Purch, 74% of respondents plan to shop both online and in-store for tech this holiday season, meaning online holiday shopping is on the rise. More and more consumers are opting to skip the craziness of Black Friday and make their purchases from the comfort of their own homes. Cyber Monday, which has grown every year since its inception, is the Monday following Thanksgiving and has grown into a time when retailers offer tremendous deals through their websites (NOTE: More and more retailers are actually offering these internet specials beginning on Black Friday, so watch their websites.) 

If you’re shopping online like the overwhelming majority of ID theft victims have stated, remember to watch out for where you shop and how you spend. Use trusted corporations who not only should have security protocols in place, but will have the means to offer support to their customers in the event of a breach. This might be another good time to consider using that prepaid debit card, since the busy holiday shopping weekend is an enticing time to hackers. Remember to hang onto those emails that the websites will send out after each purchase, too, as those serve as your receipt.

However you choose to shop, do your homework and your legwork ahead of time to ensure that you've safeguarded your personal data. The last thing you need to do at this busy time of year is to track down your identity. If the worst does happen, remember that agencies like the Identity Theft Resource Center are here to help. Just give us a call at our toll-free, 24/7 call center at 888-400-5530.

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