Holiday Shopping: Don't Compromise Your Personal Information This Season : All Tech Considered Consumers say they're worried about identity theft this holiday season, but they say these concerns won't affect how they shop. Here are steps you can take to protect your data online and in stores.
NPR logo Don't Compromise Your Personal Information This Holiday Shopping Season

Don't Compromise Your Personal Information This Holiday Shopping Season

Identity thieves can strip personal information off of public Wi-Fi and your smartphone. Rick Nease/MCT Graphics via Getty Images hide caption

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Rick Nease/MCT Graphics via Getty Images

Identity thieves can strip personal information off of public Wi-Fi and your smartphone.

Rick Nease/MCT Graphics via Getty Images

The most memorable part of this holiday shopping should be an amazing deal you found — not having to jump through endless hoops trying to reclaim your identity.

U.S. consumers are concerned about their personal information and identities during the holiday season, according to a survey by Discover. But these concerns won't affect how they shop, the survey showed.

And Black Friday and Cyber Monday are shiny opportunities for identity thieves.

John Krebs, who heads the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft program, says the days of deals — online and in stores — create even more opportunities to steal consumers' information.

Here are some simple tips to protect your personal data.

Be aware of your surroundings. It seems like it should go without saing, but the Identity Theft Resource Center says 43 percent of identity theft stems from a stolen wallet, checkbook, credit card, or other physical document. During the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping, keep an eye on your belongings and stay aware of what's going on around you.

Be wary of those public, unsecured coffee shop Wi-Fi networks. If you use an unsecured network to log in to an unencrypted site — or a site that uses encryption only on the sign-in page — other users on the network can see what you see and what you send.

"They could hijack your session and log in as you," Krebs says. "New hacking tools available for free online make this easy, even for users with limited technical know-how."

Your personal information and login credentials could be up for grabs. The FTC recommends using a virtual private network (VPN) and changing the settings on your mobile device so it doesn't automatically connect to nearby public Wi-Fi.

Use a credit card instead of a debit card. If your credit card gets stolen and used without your knowledge, it's significantly easier on your wallet than if the same happens with your debit card.

The Fair Credit Billing Act says that your maximum liability for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50 — and if you report the loss before your card is used, you aren't responsible for any charges you didn't authorize.

If you report a debit card to your bank as missing before someone uses it, the Electronic Funds Transfer Act says you're not responsible for any unauthorized purchases. But if someone uses your debit card before you can report it as missing, your bank gets to decide how much you'll have to pay for any unauthorized purchases.

Beware too-good-to-be-true deals in your inbox. You might receive emails that offer deals at websites of stores you've shopped at before. Don't click on the link in the email. Instead, go directly to the store's website to confirm that a product's price really is slashed that heavily.

Emails with the intent of phishing you — that is, trying to steal sensitive information like passwords and credit card details — are often disguised as a trustworthy source.

"Identity thieves may create clones of store websites and use an email to bring unaware online shoppers to the fake site to steal personal information if the person buys anything," says Tim Cunningham, chief information officer at Grange Insurance.

Think carefully about providing your information. Mobile shopping apps are convenient, but they can store your name, address, phone number, email, and credit and debit card details.

Look for apps that are transparent about how they keep your data safe. Never provide confidential information tied to your identity, like your Social Security number or bank account number, to someone claiming to be from a government agency or business. Reputable agencies have other methods to prove that you're you.

And, as all consumer protection guides will tell you, don't send cash. Is someone asking you to wire money immediately for a deal that seems too good to be true, or saying you qualify for a government grant but need to send them a cash fee to receive it? Don't buy it. Scammers will ask you to pay in ways that let them get cash fast — and make it extremely difficult for you to get your money back.

The FTC has resources available to consumers who have questions about protecting their personal information, or who suspect they have been the victims of identity theft. Visit the FTC website for more information.