Thursday, September 18, 2014 · 5:44 p.m.
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Black Friday and Cyber Monday are exciting times of year for both consumers and identity thieves.

December is Identity Theft Prevention and Awareness Month and, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it is also the time of year when most identity crime occurs.

The Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security Identity Crimes Unit warns consumers to be aware that identity thieves often try to victimize holiday shoppers.

"During the holiday shopping season, citizens are making more transactions and spending more money than any other time of the year. Identity thieves are looking for easy targets, and there are many more opportunities for them to steal your identity and ruin your credit," Capt. Stacy Williams of the Identity Crimes Unit said in a prepared statement.

The Identity Crimes Unit offers these tips to help keep holiday shoppers safe:

—When paying by credit card, don't allow clerks to put your receipts in your bag. Instead, carry receipts in your wallet, where they are safer and less likely to be dropped.

—Watch cashiers, waiters and bartenders, ensuring that they don't "skim" or save your card number for later use.

—When paying by check, never allow merchants to write your Social Security number on the check.

—Use a gel ink pen—preferably black—to write checks. The ink will permeate the fibers and make it difficult for the check to be cleaned and reused.

—When shopping online, be careful of wireless Internet connections. Only use those that require a security key or certificate.

—Shop on secure, reputable websites by looking for addresses that start with "https" and include a small padlock icon.

—Never offer personal information, especially your Social Security number, to online stores.

—Leave suspicious websites immediately.

—Read customer reviews before ordering products.

—Use a credit card and not a debit card, which makes it harder for you to get funds back and gives thieves access to funds in your bank account.

—Avoid carrying a Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, bank information or paychecks when hitting the stores. You could easily lose them.

—Check your bank statements, credit card bills and credit reports often.

According to a report by Javelin Strategy and Research, more than 11.6 million Americans were victims of identity fraud in 2011, an increase of 13 percent over 2010, officials said.

For the 12th year in a row, identity theft topped the list of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission in 2011. Of the more than 1.6 million complaints filed with the FTC in 2011, 15 percent were related to identity theft.

The Department of Safety and Homeland Security Identity Crimes Unit was formed earlier this year to combat the increase in identity theft and related crimes in Tennessee. 

If you have been the victim of an identity crime, you can get information and help by downloading a resource kit for identity theft victims.

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