FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Whether you plan to pounce on Black Friday deals in person or wait until Cyber Monday to score some bargains, don’t start the holiday shopping season without taking some precautions.

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Arvest Bank understands a lot of consumers are concerned about fraud and identity theft these days, but there are some simple, proactive steps they can take to help protect their personal information. That’s why, especially during the holiday season, Arvest wants to help shoppers protect themselves as much as possible.

If you don’t mind the traffic and the crowds, shopping in person can be exciting and exhilarating. Keep these tips in mind, however, to keep it from becoming more expensive due to fraud.

  • Lock it up. While you’re out finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, make sure your home is secure by locking all doors and windows. It’s also wise to place extra cash or valuables out of sight and in a secure spot, maybe even a safe deposit box.
  • Be anti-social. It may be tempting to share your excitement about going shopping – or maybe even brag about a great deal – but remember that those kinds of social media posts let people know you’re not at home.
  • Carry a card. Using a debit or credit card isn’t foolproof, but there typically are ways to recoup your funds if you’re a victim of card fraud. Carrying large amounts of cash can be riskier. If that cash is stolen, it’s likely gone for good.
  • Know ATM etiquette. If you need cash and plan to get it at an ATM, keep your card and PIN protected. Also be aware of your surroundings, particularly at night, and don’t use the ATM if you notice anything suspicious. If possible, visually inspect the ATM for skimming devices attached to the card slot. If anything looks out of the ordinary, find another ATM.

Even if you choose to do your shopping online, there are plenty of pitfalls to avoid. The following is a glance at some of the more important things to keep in mind.

  • Use secure networks. If you’re shopping online, particularly from a mobile device, avoid public and/or insecure wireless networks. It’s always best to use known, password-protected networks when possible.
  • Be alert. Use online and mobile banking to monitor transactions. Many banks have systems that let customers receive text and/or email alerts for any transaction or transactions over a certain amount. Many banks also monitor customer accounts for suspicious activity.
  • Pick smart passwords. Lots of websites require passwords, so consider using a different one for each retailer or site you use. Make them as unique as possible and if you’re worried you won’t remember all of them, consider using a password manager.
  • Don’t go phishing. If you receive an email with a deal that’s too good to be true, it probably is… Don’t click on links in emails from unfamiliar senders. The same goes for websites. Be careful before clicking on links that look out of the ordinary. Otherwise, you could inadvertently download malware or be asked to submit information that could be used for fraud.
  • Be stingy. Yes, it’s the season of giving, but that doesn’t go for all of your personal information. Only provide the information necessary to complete the transaction. This is especially true for your Social Security number. You shouldn’t have to disclose it to make a purchase.

Whether you’re shopping at the mall or selecting gifts online, there are many other ways to make sure you protect yourself and your identity while doing so. For more extensive information on privacy and identity protection, visit www.ftc.gov and look for the ‘Tips & Advice’ tab.