10 Ways to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

There's no doubt that identity theft is a crime on the rise--and with so many ways for criminals to steal your personal information, it's more important than ever to be proactive when it comes to keeping your identity safe. Identity thieves may be difficult to catch, but identity theft itself is actually easy to prevent. Featured here are ten things you can do to protect yourself from this violating crime.

Keep Tabs on Your Credit Report

Checking your credit report regularly is one of the best ways to make sure the privacy of your personal information hasn't been compromised. It's recommended that you view your credit report every four months--that way if something fishy is going on you might be able to put a stop to it before it gets out of hand. At the very minimum, review it once a year to make sure everything is on the up and up.

Choose Impossible Passwords

When choosing passwords for your accounts, both online and off, avoid using names, dates, or details about your life that would be easy for others to figure out. Identity thieves can use information found in your garbage, on a social networking site, or bits and pieces they've gathered either by hacking into an email account or simply asking people who know you about your life. Many identity thefts are actually committed by friends or acquaintances, or even worse--family members--so select passwords using a combination of letters and numbers that you and only you will know. Never share your passwords with anyone and never use the same one twice.

Conduct Online Transactions with Care

It's not uncommon to do your shopping online these days--but you've got to be smart about it. Before you enter any personal information such as your address, phone number, account number, or credit card number, check to make sure you're doing so over a secure connection. You should see the HTTP change to HTTPS in the browser bar, a padlock symbol, or receive a message stating you're about to move to a secured connection before you're asked for any information that's private.

Beware of Phishing Scams

One way that identity thieves can get you to hand out information willingly by phishing--posing as your bank, credit card company, Paypal, or anyone else you trust and asking you to submit or update information. These types of phony emails may contain links for you to click on, and in some cases the links will lead you to pages where you can enter in the requested information. Never open or click on an email or link if you don't recognize the sender, and never ever enter in any information if you've already gotten that far. Report the fraudulent email right away by making the company that was falsely represented aware of what's going on.

Shred All Personal Information Prior to Disposal

Before you throw away important documents or mail that may contain private information, shred them. Identity thieves will go to crazy lengths to access account numbers, social security numbers, or anything else that could help them assume your identity--and that includes routing around through your trash when you place it at the curb for pick-up.

Ask the Post Office to Hold Your Mail

If you're headed out of town, let the post office know you won't be home to retrieve your mail and have a hold put on it until you return. An over-stuffed mailbox will alert criminals that no one's home, and that makes you a prime target for identity theft.

Keep Important Documents in a Safe Place

Never carry items like your social security card, passport, or birth certificate in your wallet, purse, or briefcase if you don't have to. Keep them securely stowed away at home in a place they won't easily be found. If you will be traveling, store sensitive documents in a safe place on your body and keep track of them at all times. When you're out and about during your travels, use a hotel safe to store your documents until you return.

Share Information Sparingly

Share information with caution, and never share more than you have to. If someone is asking you for something that you don't think is necessary to complete the transaction or task at hand, let them know you're not comfortable sharing it and inquire about other options. Find alternative ways to get around sharing things like your social security number, for example. Instead, find out if the individual or company can identify you by some other means, using a password or a less-sensitive form of ID.

Use Public Wi-Fi with Caution

Be especially careful when you access the internet via public WI-FI. Identity thieves can access personal information more easily over non-password protected public connections, so don't enter in any personal information if you're connected to a free wireless network. 

Update Anti-Virus Software Regularly

Regularly update the anti-virus software on your computer, and conduct frequent scans in addition to the ones the software does automatically. Never skimp on anti-virus protection because you think it's a waste of money. Many anti-virus software programs are available at a very low cost, and some of them are even free.

If you think you're far removed from ever becoming an identity theft victim, think again. This awful violation can happen to anyone--you simply can't afford to be careless. By putting these important precautions into practice, you'll be able to safeguard the most important thing you have--your identity.

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