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Shopping Online? How to Avoid Identify Theft

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Cyber Monday is quickly becoming one of the most popular shopping days of the year with many Canadians making purchases online to find great savings on their holiday expenses. In fact, 34 per cent of Canadians took part in the Cyber Monday shopping craze in 2011 (Ipsos Reid).

This year, even more cost-conscious consumers will go online to research, comparison shop and seek out online deals to make their holiday budget stretch further. According to Deloitte's 2012 Holiday Outlook Survey, 55 per cent of Canadians plan to complete some of their shopping online, and 40 per cent plan to use their smart phones or tablets to make holiday purchases through apps and mobile sites.

Technology has changed the way we approach the holiday spending season. Surfing the net and using apps to seek out the best deals are great ways to save money, but letting your guard down while shopping online can put you at greater risk for identity theft and credit card fraud.

If you plan to let your fingers do the shopping this year, follow these tips to keep your budget and your identity safe:

How to Avoid Identify Theft When Online Shopping
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• Make a Budget and Stick to it -- Before you begin your online holiday shopping make a list of the gifts you want to buy and how much you can afford to spend on each item. Online advertisers put a lot of effort into creating ads that will not only entice you to make a purchase, but that are targeted to your specific online spending habits To avoid making impulse purchases stick to your budget and only purchase items from your list.

• Shop on Trusted Sites -- Only shop on secure and trusted websites where the web address begins with "https." The "s" informs consumers that they are shopping on a secure site, while the closed padlock icon and green URL indicate that personal data is encrypted. Even if you do see these Trust Marks, you may want to take the extra precaution of only shopping on websites you know from brands you recognize.

• Consider Using a Prepaid Credit Card -- Re-loadable, pre-paid credit cards can offer the convenience of shopping online without the danger of having an open credit line available to identity thieves. Load enough money onto a pre-paid card to cover what you plan on spending for the holidays. This keeps impulse purchases down and if someone steals your identity, they only have a limited credit line to access.

• Never Shop on a Public Wi-Fi Connection -- Public hot spots may seem like a great place to grab a coffee and browse the internet, but they also provide easy access for hackers to steal your identity information. The best place to make online purchases is from the safety and comfort of your own, secured home internet connection.

• Monitor Your Accounts -- It's always good practice to keep a close eye on your bank and credit card accounts -- especially when shopping online. If you do choose to shop with a traditional credit card make sure to keep track of all your charges. Once you have finished shopping, use a debt calculator to add the new charges to your current balance. This will provide you with an idea of what your new minimum monthly payment will be.

• Don't Shop via Email -- Some deals are just too good to be true. If an online deal requires you to send your credit card or personal information via email, it is a scam. While retailers may send out special sales and deals to email subscribers, they will always use a coupon code or website link you can use to redeem the bargain. Only fraudsters and thieves request personal information via email.

When it comes to scamming consumers, fraudsters are becoming increasingly savvy. If you do become a victim of identity theft, you'll want to take these steps immediately:

• File a police report.
• Notify the credit bureaus.
• Contact your bank and credit card companies.
• Review your credit reports, and contact all unknown creditors listed under New Accounts or Inquires.
• Check with Canada Post to see if a change of address has been filed in your name.
• Alert Passport Canada to make sure nobody orders a passport with your information.