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Your personal information is an integral part of your identity. Some criminals actively prowl around to steal other people's personal information, such as Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, and bank account numbers. Accessing these details can give criminals the information they need to spend your money, use your credit, open accounts, and even get income tax refunds in your name. Protecting your information from identity theft is important, and you should take steps to keep this data safe.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft is when someone uses someone else's personal information without permission. This personal information can include someone's name, phone number, and address. It might also include bank account or credit card numbers, their Social Security number, and medical insurance information. The threat of identity theft is serious because a victim can be responsible for actions taken by a criminal, such as paying for charges or having credit negatively affected by the criminal's activities. If someone steals your personal information, it's important to report it as soon as you discover the theft. File a police report immediately. Contact your bank or credit card company if you discover fraudulent activity. Contact the credit bureaus to report the fraud, and place a fraud alert on your profile. This will freeze your credit to prevent a criminal from using your identity to get more credit. Change passwords on all computers, devices, and accounts to secure your personal information.

Keep Your Personal Information Safe Online

Many online activities can place people at risk for identity theft. Always password-protect all computers and mobile devices to keep others from gaining access. Mobile devices can be especially risky if you enter personal information into apps. Use strong and unique passwords, and don't use the same password for all devices and accounts. A password manager can be helpful for keeping passwords organized. Free Wi-Fi can be convenient, but limit the activities you perform online when you're using a public Wi-Fi connection, as they're not always secure. And always close unused accounts instead of leaving them open to minimize the amount of personal information that's accessible via the Internet.

Minimizing Your Risks

Criminals can also steal personal information in other ways. When you throw documents into the trash, always shred any sensitive documents first to prevent thieves from pilfering your information. Invest in a locked mailbox to prevent criminals from stealing your mail. When using a credit card machine or ATM, make sure no one is looking over your shoulder to see numbers you enter. Check your credit report periodically to ensure that you notice suspicious activity quickly; if you notice fraudulent activity, report it immediately. Don't carry numerous credit and debit cards with you in your wallet; this can help to minimize potential losses if you lose your wallet or have it stolen. When you do use a credit or debit card, supervise employees carefully to ensure that they don't skim or capture your card information.

Protecting Kids Online

Kids who use the Internet need to learn how to use it safely to protect against identity theft. Insist that kids use strong passwords for all accounts, and tell them not to give their passwords to other people. Monitor kids' usage of social media platforms, and instruct them to limit interactions to only people that they know personally. Kids using mobile devices need to have data and location tracking turned off to maintain privacy. Teach kids not to download suspicious attachments and to stay away from sketchy websites that could infect a computer or mobile device with a virus.


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