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Guard Against Holiday Identity Theft

The holidays bring delights, along with some unwanted risks. Pickpockets and robbers often prey on distracted shoppers.

But today's consumers should also guard against identity thieves, Dr. Lynne Vieraitis, associate professor of criminology at The University of Texas at Dallas, said this week.

Whether shopping online or via phone, Vieraitis recommends using common sense and verifying that you're dealing with a reputable company before giving out any personal information. When you're in a store, keep an eye on who handles your cards.

She recommends using cash or credit cards rather than debit while shopping. It is better to have a thief max out your credit card than empty your checking account, Vieraitis said.

Be wary in restaurants, too.

"I never use my debit card at a restaurant or any establishment where it will leave my sight," she said.

Because you can't guard against all scammers, monitor your bank and credit card accounts regularly. Check your credit report routinely.

If your identification documents are stolen, minimize potential damage by reporting the theft to any appropriate agencies.

Victims should also consider placing a fraud alert or credit freeze on their credit reports right away.

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