How to Avoid Credit Card Theft During the Holidays

By Mike Peterson
In December 23, 2012

Black Friday.  Cyber Monday.  Doorbusters.  Early-bird sales.  Chances are you’ve been to a few of your favorite stores — online or brick-and-mortar — since the big holiday shopping season kicked off.  And whether you’re still trying to track down a few “must-have” items on your list or looking for deals on fun extras, chances are good that you’ll hit the stores a few more times before it’s all over.


As you wrap up your shopping this year, I’d like to remind you that while the holiday season is a time for giving, it’s also a time when scammers and identity thieves step up their efforts to steal credit card information.


That’s why I’m sharing a few of my favorite tips for enjoying safe holiday shopping.  Follow these tips, and the only thing you’ll have to worry about is remembering to ask for a gift receipt.


Here are seven easy ways to make sure that your credit card information stays where it belongs this holiday season:


  1. Use one card for everything.  If you plan on using credit cards this year, try to use the same card for every purchase.  There are a few good reasons for this:  First of all, using one card makes it very easy to track and review your holiday spending.  And second of all, using one card means that if your credit card information is stolen, you only have to worry about canceling one account.


And speaking of using one card . . .


  1. Don’t carry all of your credit cards with you.  The more cards you carry in your wallet or purse, the more you stand to lose if said wallet or purse falls into the wrong hands.  Before you head to the mall, choose one debit or credit card to take along.  Leave everything else at home.  This is also a great way to ensure that you don’t overspend.


  1. Don’t leave blank spaces on receipts.  When you pay with a credit card, some stores (think restaurants and salons) will give you a receipt that has blank spaces for a tip and a total.  Fill these sections out and sign the receipt – never leave these sections blank.


  1. Keep your card in your wallet.  You’re standing in a super-long checkout line at a department store, and you decide to “prepare” for your turn at the register by getting out your credit card.  Good idea, right?  Not so fast.  While you’re waiting in line with your card out, anyone standing near you can see your name and account number.  And that means that anyone could try to memorize, write down, or even sneak a photo of your card.  Keep your card in your wallet until you get to the checkout.  Put it away as soon as you’ve swiped it.


  1. If you’re shopping online, look for security features.  Online shopping is a great alternative to fighting the crowds for the year’s hot toys and gadgets.  You can find almost anything online, and you don’t have to get up at five in the morning or worry about finding a parking spot.  Online shopping is fairly safe, too, as long as you check to make sure you’re shopping on a secure site.


There are a few security features to look for when shopping online, such as a little padlock icon and an “s” at the end of “https” in a website’s URL. You shouldn’t have anything to worry about if you make purchases from large, reputable online retailers (think or online versions of big-box and/or department stores (think Best Buy, Target, Walmart).  You should be a little more careful when making purchases from less-familiar sites.  If you’ve never heard of the site, do a little research first.  Look for security features.  Don’t enter your credit card information if you don’t feel completely at ease.


  1. Update your Internet security and passwords.  If you plan to do any online shopping before the holiday season ends, make sure that your online security software – the software that protects your computer from spyware, hackers, and viruses – is up-to-date.


Another wise security move?  Review your passwords, especially if you tend to use the same one or two combinations for everything.  Most online retailers require you to set up a password to review, track, and change your orders, and all banks and credit card companies require you to have a password to access your accounts.  Make sure your passwords aren’t too generic or too easy to guess.  Try mixing things up by adding symbols, such as “$” or “&” – and try to come up with unique passwords for every website.  If you have a wireless router at home, make sure your network is password-protected.


  1. Review your credit card statement carefully.  You probably use your credit card more often – and in more places – during the holidays.  All of this extra activity can make it really easy to overlook an odd purchase.  As you wrap up your holiday shopping this season, it’s a good idea to hang onto your receipts and check them against your credit card statement.  If you see a purchase that you don’t recognize, call your credit card company and ask about it.


So, that wraps up my tips for credit card security.  With just a few extra precautions, you can make sure that your credit card information doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.


Have a safe and happy holiday season!

Mike is the author of “Reality Millionaire: Proven Tips to Retire Rich” and he has been published in a variety of local and national publications including Entrepreneur Magazine, Deseret Morning News, LDS Living Magazine, and Physicians Money Digest. He holds a B.S. in business administration from the University of Phoenix.

Click "More" for important American Credit Foundation client transition information