Websites often leave personal information and financial data on the hard drive after a transaction. So avoid making holiday purchases from the computers at the public library. Many tech-savvy thieves use viruses and spyware capable of stealing account numbers and passwords right off your computer. Phishing attacks are also on the rise, and growing in sophistication. Phishing, also called "carding," is a high-tech scam that utilizes spam to deceive consumers into disclosing their credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords and other sensitive information. The request to provide such data is often motivated by so-called safety measures or the need to update data banks. Some phishing emails threaten a dire consequence if you don't respond.

These tips can help you avoid getting hooked by a phishing scam:

  • Be careful when opening any attachments or downloading any files from emails;
  • Keep anti-virus software and a firewall up-to-date;
  • Do not disclose credit card or other financial account numbers on a web site unless the site offers a secure transaction. There are two ways to determine if it is a secure transaction:
    • An icon of a lock will appear in the bottom strip of the web browser page;
    • The URL for the web page will change from "http" to "https" for the page at which you input the personal data;
  • Do not reply to e-mails or pop-up messages that ask for personal or financial information.

Even if you take all of these steps, however, it is still possible that you can become a victim of identity theft. Records containing your personal data - credit card receipts or car rental agreements, for example - may be found by or shared with someone who decides to use your personal data for fraudulent purposes.