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5 ways to avoid credit card fraud this shopping season

By , CardRatings Contributor

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We are down to the wire on the holiday shopping season. If you have been waiting until the last minute to buy gifts, well, we are just about there. However, in your rush to get the presents under the tree, don't make careless mistakes that could put your best credit card number into the wrong hands and your credit score in jeopardy.

Here are five tips to avoid credit card fraud during the holidays and all year long.

1. Avoid shopping and banking on public computers

Library computers can be a godsend if you need to pass the time or if your home computer goes on the fritz. But you should be careful about your online activities on these and other communal computers. Banking is a no-no, and shopping should be off-limits too. It is too easy to forget to log-out of accounts, and other users with more sinister motives may find ways to access sensitive data even if you do.

The same goes for that free wifi offered at the coffee shop and the local McDonalds. Unsecured, public networks are convenient for browsing the web and laughing at the latest memes, but they are not the place to be entering your MasterCard, Visa or Discover numbers.

2. Look for secure sites

Even when you are on your home computer or a secured network, be aware of where you are entering your credit card information. Generally, sites for large retailers such as Best Buy or Sears will have sufficient security to protect your credit card information. A no-name electronics store with a Russian web address? Maybe not so much.

Even if a site says it's secure, don't simply take its word. Look for addresses that start with 'https' and a padlock. If you are shopping on a new site, double check its privacy and security policies too.

3. Protect your credit card in public

If you are shopping old-school (that would be in a store), you still need to protect your credit card number. Don't leave your card lying out on the counter where others may be able to see and memorize your numbers.

Also, while most clerks are honest, keep an eye on your card as it is swiped. There have been reports of some instances in which a clerk will swipe a card twice - once on the store register and once on a separate skimmer they use to collect numbers for their own devious purposes.

4. Put a password on your mobile phone

Smart phones can almost do it all - play music, browse the web and (gasp!) even make phone calls. One of the latest innovations is that of the mobile wallet which lets you set up your credit card information in an app and then use your phone to make payments rather than pull out the physical card.

All this technology can be great, but you need to think about how much sensitive material is stored on your phone. What happens when it is lost or stolen? Take a preventive measure by password protecting your phone.

5. Use a prepaid card

Finally, you can largely avoid the risk of ongoing credit card fraud by using a prepaid credit card. Although traditional credit cards limit your liability to $50 in the event of fraud, a thief can wreck havoc in a short period of time and sorting out the mess can be quite a headache. Prepaid cards prevent criminals from maxing out your credit in a day and potentially impacting your credit score. In particular, they can be a good alternative if you are feeling unsure about a website's security.

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