By Gary Nelson

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MIAMI (CBSMiami) — With the holiday shopping season in full swing, thieves will be thriving. That was the cautionary word from economic crime fighters Tuesday at a news conference in Doral.

A phalanx of local and federal law enforcement called the conference to warn consumers to avoid having financial information stolen – starting with those skimmer devices that can duplicate your credit card. Pay at the pump might be convenient, but police say it’s not recommended. The pump could be equipped with a sophisticated skimmer device, unrecognizable to the untrained eye.

“Walk inside the convenience store, the gasoline station, process your own card in front of the cashier, don’t hand your credit card to the cashier,” said Miami-Dade economic crimes Det. Marcos Rodriguez.

Doing your holiday buying online? Make sure it’s a secure computer. The IRS says any computer you transmit personal financial information over should have an up to date firewall.

“Don’t use unprotected Wi-Fi. Unprotected Wi-Fi spots may allow thieves to view your information,” said Alejandro Nunez of the IRS

If you don’t do your income taxes yourself, make sure the person who prepares yours is licensed and has an income tax preparer I.D. number and includes it and their signature on your return.

“Remember, you are giving this person all of your personal information and all of your financial information,” warned IRS Special Agent In Charge, Kelly Jackson.

The IRS will never ask you for personal information over the phone or in an email. If you get an email or call from the IRS asking for information, it is a scam. Report it.

If someone steals your credit card information, you won’t’ be on the hook for the bill, but if someone steals your income tax refund – it is difficult if not impossible to undo.

“It is a process and a half to get that fixed, and you may be out of your money,” said Miami-Dade Police Dir. Juan Perez. Your Social Security number and date of birth are two vital pieces of information to protect. If you fill out a credit application make sure no one’s peaking over your shoulder. The same for ATM machines; don’t let someone see you enter your pin – they may have already skimmed your bank card.

In applying for credit, make sure it is with a reputable firm. Information needed to obtain credit can be used by someone to file a false income tax return and receive a fraudulent refund.

The bottom line from Tuesday’s news conference: Always assume that someone is looking to skim or otherwise steal your identity, so always be looking over your shoulder.

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