Newswise — BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – With the holidays’ approaching, spending in America is predicted to increase by 5 percent. That is a lot of card-swiping and online shopping — prime opportunities for thieves to steal credit card information or other personal data.

This past year, more than 16 million people in the United States were victims of identity theft or fraud — what the Department of Justice defines as wrongfully obtaining personal data to use for fraudulent means.

Do not be one of those millions this year: Learn the best ways to keep your financial and personal data safe this holiday shopping season, whether you ’are pounding the pavement to make it to the best Black Friday sales or perusing your favorite websites for deals on Cyber Monday.

Monitor your card activity.
Do not wait for your print statement to come in the mail, advises Consumer Reports. Instead, sign in online or use a mobile banking app to check real-time updates on your card use. If you see something unfamiliar, report it to your bank immediately.

Freeze your credit.
Credit security freezes essentially shut off all access to your credit history by would-be lenders, Consumer Reports says. That way, if your card or identity is compromised and the thief attempts to open new accounts, loans or credit cards in your name, you are less likely to be approved.

Change your passwords often — and be creative.
The money you spend during holiday sales can come back to haunt you later, and not because of caveat emptor. Large retailers often are vulnerable to cyberattacks: In Home Depot’s 2014 information breach, 56 million customers’ credit and debit card information was compromised, After Target’s 2013 attack, 110 million people were affected.

“The most basic rule is to not use the same password or passwords for multiple accounts,” said Gary Warner, director of Research in Computer Forensics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. “This keeps your information safe in case there is a data breach at a large company you’ve patronized.”

“One username and password combination might not seem that serious at first glance, but if you use that combination for multiple accounts, cybercriminals will keep trying to use them until they gain access,” Warner said. “The best thing to do is use unique, complicated, strong passwords for each individual account.”

Type in a website URL instead of clicking that email or pop-up ad.
Sophisticated cybercriminals can make emails and advertisements look as though they were sent from popular retailers such as Amazon or Best Buy — a tactic called phishing, when scammers use fraudulent email or texts or copycat websites to fool consumers into sharing valuable personal information, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.

“If an email or text offer looks too good to be true this holiday season, it just might be,” Warner said. “Instead of clicking on any links included in the ad, try going to the retailer’s homepage itself by typing in the direct URL and look for the offer there. If you don’t see it, you just might have foiled a major phishing attempt.”

About UAB
Known for its innovative and interdisciplinary approach to education at both the graduate and undergraduate levels, the University of Alabama at Birmingham is an internationally renowned research university and academic medical center, as well as Alabama’s largest employer, with some 23,000 employees, and has an annual economic impact exceeding $7 billion on the state. The pillars of UAB’s mission include education, research, innovation and economic development, community engagement, and patient care. Learn more at www.uab.eduUAB: Powered by will.