Before you deck the halls this holiday season, take a few minutes to review these important reminders for protecting your identity and financial information. Military service members are twice as likely to have their identity stolen than the general public, according to a 2013 Federal Trade Commission survey. That means you'll need to put your skills to use to be vigilant and ensure your holiday season is both merry and safe.

Shop smart online and in the stores.

You can put your financial information at risk whether you shop online or in-store. Be smart.  Before purchasing anything online, shop only at trusted websites and those that display a secure lock sign or URL that starts with "https://". 

Instead of entering your credit card online, consider payment services such as Visa® Checkout. Make sure your smartphone, tablet or computer has the most up-to-date security software, and avoid connecting to Wi-Fi networks that are unsecured.

Mobile apps* are an easy and convenient way to holiday shop on the go, but be wary when downloading apps to your phone. Recently, fake apps impersonating retailers to trick consumers into sharing personal information have been popping up in app stores across devices. Misspellings in the description and little to no reviews of the app are telltale signs the app may be fraudulent.

In stores, make sure to use your chip card at chip-enabled card readers. Or, pay with your phone using your mobile wallet*. When these options aren't possible, use credit cards like Navy Federal's that protect you from having to pay for fraudulent purchases if your information has been stolen or compromised.

Don't give your information to an unfamiliar charity.

Identity thieves are known to prey on holiday givers by setting up fake charities or giving campaigns. Unless you're already familiar with a charity, this is an easy way for scammers to collect your personal information and money. Be wary of phone calls and emails soliciting your information from organizations you've never heard of.

To determine the legitimacy of a charity, you can research the charity yourself or use an online service such as, an independent organization that evaluates non-profits' legitimacy so you can find a charity that you trust.

Select your ATM carefully.

You've probably heard stories in the news about ATM skimming. With this scam, thieves attach electronic devices on or near ATMs to collect your card number and PIN. The easiest way to avoid using tampered machines is to use ATMs in well-lit areas or inside bank lobbies. Always shield the keyboard with your hand as you enter your PIN. If the ATM doesn't look quite right, it's better to avoid it entirely.

Keep your travel plans offline.

Sometimes it's hard to keep your excitement about a holiday trip to yourself, especially if you've taken time off to visit friends and family. It's always wise to make sure your plans are only revealed to those you trust. If possible, avoid posting pictures, videos, or taking Snapchats that reveal your personal information. You don't want to live under a rock, but you can remove personal information or cover them up with photo editing.  Be sure to remove or cover personal information, such as names, credit card info, and unique passenger identification, from boarding passes or train tickets if you're going to post pictures while traveling. Never send or post your passport or driver's license information, since it contains your full name, date of birth and legal address. All of these are important for identity thieves to steal your information or open credit in your name.

The best way to avoid a slipup is to double check the background of everything before you post – being aware is the best strategy to safeguard your information.

Eyeball your credit report.

It never hurts to check up on your credit report, especially during or following a busy purchasing time like the holidays. Each year you can retrieve a free copy of your credit report from each of the major three credit bureaus — Equifax®, Experian® and TransUnion®.

See something suspicious? Report it to the credit bureau and your financial institution as soon as possible.

If you're currently deployed, double-check to see if you've put an "Active Duty alert" on your credit report. The alert requires companies issuing credit to take extra steps verify your name and identity before granting new credit in your name. It lasts for a year at a time, but you can always renew it. This will safeguard your information from identity thieves looking to go on a shopping spree with a new card in your name during the holiday season. Plus, it'll give you peace of mind while you're away. Don't already have one? Call any one of the major credit bureaus and they'll be able to add one to your credit report.

Shred unnecessary receipts.

Receipts tend to collect in your wallet, purse or shopping bags. Store them in a safe place until you won't need them to verify your card statements or until after the return policies have passed. Then, shred those receipts, along with junk mail or documents containing your information, on a regular basis. Don't forget to be wary of sharing images of receipts that have your credit or debit card information on them, especially while holiday shopping or traveling. Sometimes the information on receipts can be enough for an identity thief to do damage.

Pay attention to data breach announcements.

If you hear of a data breach that could impact your personal information, take action as soon as possible. Place fraud alerts or credit freezes with credit bureaus and contact the creditors or banks associated with the breached company.

Put identity theft protection in place.

Consider purchasing identity theft protection. It's a great way to help protect your identity and keep track of your personal financial information. If you have it, make sure you've activated all of its features, so your product is doing the best detect-and-alert work it possibly can.

Financial institutions such as Navy Federal Credit Union may offer members discounted or free Identity Theft Restoration services. In case your information is exposed or stolen, be sure you know what to do.

The holiday season is a time to celebrate with loved ones. Don't let identity thieves put a damper on your festivities!

Navy Federal is federally insured by NCUA.  *Message and data rates may apply to mobile banking.