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How to prevent credit card fraud this holiday season

Here's how you can protect yourself from credit card fraud this holiday season with insight from a FICO fraud expert.

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Holiday shopping is in full swing, and you're likely using a credit card to purchase gifts. It's ideal in a lot of ways: You can earn and redeem rewards to cover the cost of all the gifts you need to buy. But experts warn you should be wary of where you use a credit card this time of year.

"The holiday season is peak time for fraud as holiday spending provides a tempting opportunity for fraudsters," Liz Lasher, vice president of fraud and financial crimes at FICO, tells CNBC Select.

"Many people are so busy with shopping and festivities they don't take that extra minute to scrutinize an email link that purports to come from a store or delivery service. Or they fail to notice a few fraudulent charges among the higher volume of transactions on their bank or card statement," Lasher explains.

While there's the potential for fraud, using a credit card for holiday shopping is still your best bet. Card issuers provide zero liability protection, which means you won't be charged for fraudulent charges.

Below, CNBC Select provides tips on how you can protect yourself from credit card fraud this holiday season.

How to protect yourself against credit card fraud

Monitor your credit card accounts

While you should always monitor your credit card balance(s) on a regular basis, it's especially important to check them during the holidays. Make sure all transactions listed were made by you or any authorized users on your account.

"Turn on alerts, if available, from your bank or card issuer," Lasher says. "This can inform you when spending is taking place on your card."

Capital One cards, such as the Capital One Venture Rewards Credit Card, offer alerts via text, email and phone if Capital One notices potential suspicious transactions on your account. (See rates and fees). American Express cards, such as the Blue Cash Preferred® Card from American Express, allow you to set alerts when purchases are made abroad or if a large purchase was approved.

If you notice anything suspicious, contact your card issuer immediately to dispute the transaction and freeze your credit card.

Be wary of advertisements

You may be tempted to click on social media ads on Instagram or Facebook, but you should do so sparingly. Ads boasting limited-time offers or large discounts may not always be from a reliable site.

"It's harder to mouse over a link and know where it's going on a smartphone than on a laptop or tablet. You might want to resist the urge to click until you can verify the source," Lasher explains.

Before clicking on any ad — whether it's via your smartphone or laptop — you should verify the source.

"Rather than click on a link in an email or SMS, go to the site itself. Hackers can spoof websites, so make sure you're shopping on the right site," Lasher recommends.

Double check the URL to make sure the spelling is correct, that the URL begins with "https" and there's a small lock icon that confirms it's a secure site.

Secure your information

If you do want to do some online shopping from your phone while you're out in public, make sure you don't leave any personal information easily visible, since someone can easily peer over your shoulder and access your data. You should try to complete purchases in secure areas, such as your car, rather than an open coffee shop, for example. Obscure your credit card number with your hand or use a mobile wallet, such as Apple Pay.

It's better to use cellular data to access the internet when you're out and about, rather than public Wi-Fi, which isn't secure and leaves you vulnerable to hackers.

Watch out for spam phone calls

There's also an uptick in spam calls this time of year, with fraudsters trying to get unwarranted personal information for you.

"Don't fall for phone calls where the caller asks for your card details. If you didn't make the call, you don't know it's legit," Lasher says.

"If you get a call from someone who says they're from your bank, and it feels suspicious, hang up and call your bank directly. Your bank will never ask you for your password," Lasher says. "Criminals know people are worried about fraud during the holidays and may take this opportunity to try to get you to divulge information."

Also if someone asks for your social security number and other sensitive information, that's a red flag. A general rule of thumb is you shouldn't provide your social security number over the phone if you didn't initiate the call. And even if you did, there are often other, less personal details you can provide to verify your identity.

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Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.
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