Winter's chill is almost here, but fraudsters are already warmed-up for the final holiday shopping rush. Here's how to protect yourself against these Grinches.

By 2020, retailers and financial institutions may face as much as $7.2 billion in annual costs of fraud. While EMV chip cards offer consumers a more secure way to pay with credit and debit cards than the magnetic stripped cards they replace, that only applies to in-person transactions using the physical card. The world of online purchasing, however, still gives fraudsters a wide-open playing field, as the chip never enters into the equation of the purchase.

Want to do everything you can to keep fraudsters from spoiling the final days of your holiday shopping push? Follow these rules and it'll be far less likely that you'll discover fraudulent charges on your next credit card statement.

Go Old School: Pay with Cash

The safest way to make a purchase is to do so in a way that requires no personal or financial information. Other than bartering, cash is the only option that fits that bill. Those in-person purchases support the local economy, which is something that’s become important for many holiday shoppers. Plus, using cash makes it much easier to stick to your holiday budget. Pull out the cash you plan to spend, and when it’s spent, you're done shopping. Simple.

A U.S. News & World Report article offers some additional advantages of paying with cash, along with a few disadvantages.

Avoid Using a Debit Card

If you plan to finish your shopping online, avoid using your debit card. While using a debit card shows financial responsibility, you’re using your money to make a purchase, not credit from a financial institution. Banks take far greater interest in protecting their money than yours, and will almost always reimburse you for fraudulent charges to a credit card. That’s not so much the case with fraudulent debit card purchases.

Handy tip: If you use your credit card, just pay it off immediately to avoid paying interest. Using credit and paying it off may boost your credit score.

What's more, according to nerdwallet, if you haven’t reported a lost or stolen debit card (or debit card information) for more than 60 days, you have no protection at all.

Buy from a Reputable Source

Just as you do when purchasing from someone in person, buy from established companies with good reputations. Solid companies are far more likely to invest the time and money into protecting their customers, and have the wherewithal to address a security breach should one occur.

How can you identify stable, trustworthy companies? Consider if they’re a well-known brand. Check reviews on Google and Yelp. If the company’s website looks unsophisticated, consider that they’ve spent even less on security and security policies for the personal and financial data they receive from customers.

Also, be aware that when buying from individual sellers who use services like Groupon or Amazon to market their wares or services, the individual sellers may not have the solid reputation that the larger site like Groupon or Amazon does. Be sure to check the reputation of the individual seller. In some cases, you’ll see customers complaining that they never received the item they purchased.

ALWAYS Keep an Eye on Your Accounts

You’d be surprised by how fast and easy it is to log in each day to check the activity on all your accounts. If you see a charge that doesn’t look familiar, don’t hesitate to call the financial institution to verify the charge. Catching a fraudulent charge early makes it much easier to get reimbursed or credited.

Plus, almost every bank provides the ability to set up notifications on account activities. For example, you can request that the bank email or text you when your account balance drops below a certain threshold, or when charges or debits over a certain amount are made. Although you may receive alerts that don’t indicate a problem, these false positive alerts are far preferable to finding out your account has been compromised weeks after the initial compromise occurred.

Purchase from Sites that Leverage Security Tools

Buy from websites that employ multifactor authentication (MFA). For example, if they recognize that you’re logging in from a new device when making a purchase and ask you to verify that the purchaser is indeed you, you can feel better about your purchase.

Safeguards like MFA give you much greater confidence in the security of your payment information. Plus, the companies that employ these security solutions send a strong signal that they pay as much attention to the security of your data as they do to their bottom line.