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How to protect yourself from fraudulent charges, identity theft

Target says that about 40 million credit and

Target says that about 40 million credit and debit card accounts of customers may have been affected by a data breach that occurred at its U.S. stores between Nov. 27 and Dec. 15, 2013. Credit: AP

In light of Target’s announcement on Thursday that millions of its customers are in danger of fraudulent charges and identity theft, many shoppers, Target and otherwise, are wondering how safe their information really is. Experian’s ProtectMyID has seven simple steps to avoid identity theft and credit fraud as you make your final holiday purchases.

1. Protect your digital devices. More than two in five people who own a smartphone report they rarely or never use a password to unlock it. Set up a password to unlock your phone in the event you lose it or have it stolen when out in crowded shopping malls.

2. Know the sites you’re using. When shopping online, make sure to go directly to a site to shop rather than follow a link from another site.

3. Shop securely. Online shopping should only happen on secure Wi-Fi networks – only use a protected network you can trust rather than a public one you can access at the local coffeehouse, etc.

4. Streamline your wallet. Before heading to the mall, leave anything you don’t need, such as your Social Security card (you should never carry it in your wallet), your library or wholesale club card, and excess credit cards at home. Only take the credit cards you know you will use.

5. Hide your valuables. Never leave packages, briefcases, purses, luggage, or other types of bags in plain view inside your car. If you must leave something in your car, conceal it in the trunk, and place it there before you arrive at the mall parking lot.

6. Don’t sign up for store credit cards at the checkout counter. Ask to fill it out in privacy away from the cash register. Completing a credit application in a public place potentially exposes identifying information to prying eyes.

7. Keep an eye on your credit report. By monitoring your credit, you stand a better chance of catching fraud quickly.

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