Consumer confidence is expected to boost holiday shopping this season. Security experts advise consumers to take extra precautions to protect their credit and identity. This Nov. 27, 2015 file photo shows a shopper browsing sales in a store at the Cincinnati Premium Outlets in Monroe, Ohio. Credit: John Minchillo | AP

Maine is one of the safest U.S. states when it comes to identity theft and fraud, but with the coming holiday season expected to be the strongest in more than a decade, security experts are advising consumers to take precautions to safeguard their credit cards and sensitive information.

A recent report from credit website WalletHub.com said that this year alone well-known companies including Macy’s, Sears, Best Buy, KMart and Delta were attacked by cybercriminals.

And the Identity Theft Resource Center’s most recent Data Breach Report found between Jan. 1, 2005, and Aug. 31, 2018, there have been 9,395 breaches accounting for more than 1.1 billion compromised records.

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The strong economy is boosting consumer confidence this year. The PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2018 Holiday Outlook report, which surveyed about 2,100 consumers, found shoppers expect to spend $1,250 each this holiday on gifts, travel and entertainment. That’s 5 percent more than last year.

The report said economic growth this year is poised to be the strongest since 2005, which will create positive consumer sentiment that in turn signals a strong holiday shopping season.

And that concerns security experts.

“Unfortunately, identity thieves don’t need much information to create chaos in someone’s finances,” said Jennifer Martinez, manager at the Financial Education Benefits Center, a San Ramon, California, financial education company. “We can’t stop them from trying to get to your information.”

Maine has among the fewest identity theft complaints per capita. The state ranks 49th nationally in the amount of identity theft and 46th in the amount of fraud.

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Still, experts suggest beefing up identity protection by shredding paperwork containing sensitive information, using secure internet connections while transmitting personal information and using strong passwords on websites.

WalletHub said people know to use strong passwords for their financial accounts, but they may overlook using the same precautions with email. A primary email address likely serves as a person’s username and way to reset passwords on other websites. If the email password is vulnerable, WalletHub said all other accounts will be as well. It recommends using a strong password and setting up a two-step verification process.

WalletHub also recommends signing up for credit monitoring. WalletHub, for example, offers free credit monitoring for TransUnion credit reports.

Banks, financial account and credit card companies also have become more vigilant in spotting unusual use patterns with credit cards and alerting consumers more quickly.

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Consumers also can set up alerts in those accounts to notify them when their contact or other information is changed.

Experts also recommend being careful when using email and the internet for shopping and other activities. Don’t download emails from unknown sources, WalletHub recommended, and don’t enter financial or personal information into websites without the “https” prefix in their URLs.

Consumers also can use services like LifeLock that help protect personal information.

“Identity theft can cause a tremendous amount of damage to a person’s finances, and cost them undue hardship in terms of both money and time,” Martinez said.

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