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ITRC Fact Sheet 141

Whether it’s a back to school sale, a once-a-month clearance, or a holiday shopping trip, large shopping crowds and busy malls create prime openings for the identity thief. As identity theft is a crime of opportunity, thieves often take advantage of distracted shoppers, crowds and even temporary workers to steal credit cards, debit cards, checks and Social Security numbers. ITRC would like to make the following suggestions to make sure that thieves don’t have a shopping spree on your dime.

Social Security Numbers

Leave your Social Security card at home. With that number, thieves can open up credit cards in your name without your knowledge.

Purse Snatching and Pickpockets: Make it difficult for a thief to access your information. Only carry the credit cards you need for that day. Unzipped purses, backpacks or open bags are open invitations to pickpockets. If carrying a purse, loop the strap over your shoulder and have the clasp-side of the purse against the FRONT of your body. A fanny pack, while not a fashion statement, is a safer way to carry a wallet.

Check Writing

ITRC recommends that you leave checkbook and deposit slips at home and use a credit card instead. If a thief gets hold of your checkbook you may be hearing from merchants and collection agencies for months afterwards, even if you close the account. Unfortunately, we do not have a national program to notify all merchants about closed or stolen account information. Write checks with a gel pen with specially formulated ink that absorbs into the paper fibers or one with non-erasable ink. This makes it harder for a thief to alter the check.

Shoulder Surfing

Take a few extra moments to protect credit cards, driver’s licenses and checks from wandering eyes. And don’t forget that while you stand in line anyone can hear your cell phone conversation. Don’t share your credit card numbers or Social Security Number in an open, public environment.

Credit Card Skimming

Credit card skimming occurs when someone slides your credit card through a second machine that scans the information from the magnetic strip and stores it until it is downloaded onto a counterfeit card. Keep your eyes on your cards at all times. Don’t let a clerk or accomplice distract you from the transaction.

Online Shopping

Computers don’t steal information, thieves do. It is safe to shop online as long as the company is on a secure server with “https” in the URL and a locked padlock next to the URL or in the bottom right hand corner of your browser. Keep a printout of the web page(s) describing the item you ordered, any email messages, and the page that shows the seller’s name, address, telephone number and return policies should you have any problems. For online purposes, it is not necessary to provide a Social Security number. A credit card number is preferred for online purchases. While you cannot completely prevent yourself from becoming a victim, the tips above should help you from becoming an easy target.


This fact sheet should not be used in lieu of legal advice. Any requests to reproduce this material, other than by individual victims for their own use, should be directed to