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Holiday Credit Card Security: Keeping Your Credit and Identity Safe

Want to know how to keep your credit safe during the holiday shopping season? Year-round credit card security practices—with extra care.

By Laurel Nelson-Rowe | American Express Credit Intel Freelance Contributor

5 Min Read | December 20, 2019 in Cards



Keeping your credit cards and your identity safe from thieves is especially important to consider during the holiday shopping season.

Doing so requires mostly the same security practices you should follow all year round—with an extra shot of vigilance.

When you’re in the midst of a gift-shopping marathon, who has the time (or energy) for chores like comparing receipts to your online statement each night, or checking on all those automated email alerts you (should have) signed up for? And, of course, that’s exactly why you should. Fraudsters count on people being too busy during the holidays to keep their guards up, too. It’s one of the two main reasons scammers are more active during this time of year—and why holiday credit card security is a real problem.


The other main reason to take holiday credit card security seriously is the year-end spending “bulge.” Roughly a quarter to a third of annual retail sales, depending on the year, gets squeezed into the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. In 2019, the National Retail Federation projected that overall holiday retail spending could hit $730 billion, with online spending accounting for up to $167 billion of that.1 Fraudsters and scammers want a piece of that action.


It’s useful to think about keeping your credit card safe during the holiday season like training for a marathon—both require organization, discipline and focus. Here are some ideas for how you can do it:


Basics of Holiday Credit Card Security—But For All Year Round

Many of the following suggestions for protecting your card make sense all year round, but can be especially helpful in boosting credit card security for the holidays:

  • Never share any of your credit card or account information with anyone.
  • Don’t leave credit card receipts or statements in visible areas.
  • Practice good PIN and password “hygiene” by storing your PIN separately from card information and having a long account password without easily guessed names or numbers; change your passwords often.
  • If your address or phone number changes, share that with your card issuer ASAP.
  • Set up automatic transaction alerts and/or use a credit monitoring service that will notify you when transactions hit a level that you choose.
  • Regularly review online or print credit card statements, along with your credit reports.2,3


How to Keep Your Credit Card Secure Amid Holiday Sights, Sounds, and Stores

While taking in holiday sights, sounds, and smells, experts advise that you keep security on your list—whether strolling down a decorated street or in a store or restaurant. Wallets and purses with credit cards, or shopping bags full of gifts and retail receipts, can disappear quickly amid a bustling crowd. For holiday credit card security, experts suggest:

  • One Card Rule: Make only one card your official Holiday Credit Card for shopping trips and holiday outings—leave any others locked safely at home. It’s less to keep track of, and makes statement-checking easier, too.
  • Use a Mobile Wallet App: If you add that one holiday credit card to a mobile wallet, you can even lock that physical card at home, too. Mobile wallets add an extra layer of protection by keeping your actual credit number out of the transaction data.
  • Real-Time Alerts: You may think this a pain, but some experts recommend setting up real-time alerts for every credit card transaction, so you get an email or text after each sale. You’ll also know quickly if your card is used without your knowledge.
  • Leave No Room for Fraud: Cross out any extra lines on print receipts before signing them, so bad actors can’t add in fraudulent charges later.
  • Reconcile: Keep and regularly reconcile credit card receipts with your statement, online; then shred the receipts. And don’t overlook small charges you don’t recognize right way, because experts say fraudsters sometimes start that way when they first get hold of new card information.
  • Shield Your PIN: When keying in your PIN at an ATM, shield your hands with a wallet, or purse, or just use your other hand. You’ll be protecting your PIN from onlookers, as well as hard-to-detect credit card “skimmer” cameras that criminals attach to ATMs, gas pumps, and other transactional machines.4
  • Keep Your Card in Your Pocket/Purse: You would never hand a bartender cash to open a tab, right? Don’t hand over your credit card at holiday parties—or even let it out of your sight.5


Keep Your Card Secure When Holiday Shopping Online

Doing holiday shopping online? Here’s how experts suggest you keep secure:

  • Shop online with merchants you know and trust.
  • Use sites with URLs that include “https” for security.
  • Shop at home or via secure Wi-Fi networks—never via public Wi-Fi connections.
  • Despite the allure of “1-click” buying, avoid storing credit card or personal information with any vendor.
  • Never give out personal information in response to an email or phone call.6 If you think the email or call is legit, log in to the site directly (don’t click on the email!) or hang up and call back the calling organization’s main customer number.


Keep Your Identity Safe by Monitoring Your Credit Reports

Again, this is something experts say you should do year-round, but especially—and more often—over the holidays. Unless you’ve frozen your credit, checking your credit report to look for inquiries you never authorized is likely to be the quickest way to find out if criminals have gotten hold of your personally identifiable information and are trying to open fraudulent accounts in your name. The experts say a credit freeze is the best way to protect your identity from thieves. To learn more, read, “Should I Freeze My Credit? Survey Says …


The Takeaway

Keep your Elfin-eared antennae up: Holiday hoaxes can get very creative. Use security experts’ advice so you don’t get snowed over with holiday credit card fraud or theft this season. It requires an ever-attentive focus on good credit card safety practices.

Laurel Nelson-Rowe

Laurel Nelson-Rowe is a longtime writer and editor focusing on business technology, cybersecurity, media, corporate culture, and quality management.


All Credit Intel content is written by freelance authors and commissioned and paid for by American Express. 

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