It’s a hard fact — that as we delve deeper into the World Wide Web, protecting your identity from criminals gets harder by the day. The moment you provide your personal information to another entity — whether it’s a bank, an online survey, or a medical health provider — you give up control over that information and how it might be used.

In 2012, an estimated 16.6 million Americans have been victims of some form of identity theft according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Most of those incidents involved fraudulent use of credit or debit cards, but those whose personal information were used to open new accounts were more likely to “experience financial, credit, and relationship problems and sever emotional distress.”

We can’t control what happens when we willingly share our information with a company or with friends. But too often, we make the identity thieves’ job a lot easier by being careless with our personal information, our financial information and our Internet use.

There are several simple yet stupid things people do everyday that make it easier for thieves to steal other people’s identities. Below are just some of them, so check if you’re doing any one of these mistakes.

Accessing the Internet over public or insecure Wi-Fi networks

Similarly dangerous are open Wi-Fi networks in parks, airports, shopping malls, museums, and libraries. Protect yourself from Wi-Fi snoops by installing VPN (Virtual Private Network) software, which you can use as your connection as it will encrypt all Internet traffic on your laptop, smartphone, or tablet.

Post personal information on social media

Think about your Facebook profile, for example. Do you list your full birth date and year, as well as your childhood hometown? How about your parents’ full names? If you answer is yes to all of these, then you’ve just easily given all your personal information to a prospective thief without him even breaking a sweat. Don’t be surprised that one day someone will take over your identity or steal something valuable from you.

Carry your Social Security card in your wallet

If the event that your wallet gets stolen along with your Social Security card, the thief won’t just have your money, your driver’s license and your credit cards — he’ll also have access to your identity.

Writing down the number on a piece of paper in your wallet is just as risky, as is storing the number on your cellphone. (Stolen cellphones, especially smartphones loaded up with social media and online banking apps, are bonanzas for identity thieves.)

It’s better to memorize your Social Security number, and to store the card in a locked safe or safe-deposit box. Similarly, check other ID cards — Medicare cards, for example, to make sure they don’t include Social Security number. If they do, toss those in the safe as well.

Give your personal information to people who call or email you

Ever experienced one of these — a nice-sounding lady calling from the bank says she needs your account number, or an official-looking email message from the IRS says the agency needs your Social Security number — won’t you please click on this link to do so?

Don’t ever believe them. Organizations dealing with personally identifiable information, especially financial information, rarely send emails or make unsolicited calls. Don’t ever give out your personal information, including credit card numbers or Social Security number, to anyone calling you on the phone or sending unsolicited email messages. You have no way of knowing whether or not that caller is legitimate, or whether that email message came from the purported sender.

If you feel you absolutely must respond, call the institution in question — and make sure you get its number from a phone book.

Throw away mails, checks, and financial documents intact

Thieves are not above going through your trash, hoping they’ll find your full name and address, bank receipts, credit card statements, or even canceled or voided checks. Do the smart thing: tear up anything that has your name on it, and use a shredder for any document with your financial information.

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This entry was posted by Staff Writer on Wednesday, September 14, 2016 at 6:43:43 AM and is filed under Computer Security & Data Protection.

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