Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.

Identity theft is the fastest-growing crime around the globe for the very obvious reason that most of us have made our most valuable personal information — name, address, social security number, driver’s license, credit card number, etc. — available online. And cyber criminals are having an easy time stealing it!

There’s no way to inoculate yourself against identity theft completely. But if you’re diligent in learning how your information can be at risk and what fraudsters can do with it, you’ll be better equipped to protect your data and act quickly if someone does manage to steal it.

According to Bureau of Justice statistics, more than 16.7 Americans were victims of identity theft in 2017 and one million of those were children. Fraud losses totaled $16.8-million. At least 143-million Americans were affected by the Equifax breach. Banks (JP MorganChase), retailers (Target) and web services (Yahoo) have all been hacked.

How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Identity theft can rock your world, and not in a good way. You could lose access to your financial accounts, or find yourself with a surprise lien on your house. You might even end up under arrest if someone commits a crime under your identity. These are few tips that can help make sure you, and your identity, aren’t easy pickings.

Never Click Unknown Urls

A URL shortener turns a long and bulky web address into a short address using a simple redirect. Third parties usually run URL shorteners, and it’s relatively easy for anyone to set up such a service. While not every shortening service or link is malicious, people use shortened URLs to direct you to sketchy sites, carry out phishing attacks, place cookies on your computer, and obtain personal information (such as the version of your browser, operating system, and your IP address).

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Consider Using A Secure Passwords.

Passwords are the digital keys to our networks of friends, our work colleagues, and even our banking and payment services.

The most important two passwords are those for your email and social network accounts. If someone gains access to your email account, they could use the “forgot your password?” link on other websites you use, like online shopping or banking sites. If a hacker gets into your social network, they have the ability to scam your friends by sending out links to dangerous websites or posting fraudulent messages asking for money. The bottom line is that a good password is all that may stand between you and a cybercriminal.

Beware of Public Wi-Fi

Portable workplaces are popular, but there could be dangers in setting up your “office’’ in the local coffee shop. With public Wi-Fi, your data could be intercepted by outsiders. So, when you’re at the cafe, airport, library or hotel, don’t conduct bank transactions, make online purchases or enter any sensitive information.

A virtual private network (VPN) gives you online privacy and anonymity by creating a private network from a public internet connection. VPNs mask your internet protocol (IP) address so your online actions are virtually untraceable. Most important, VPN services establish secure and encrypted connections to provide greater privacy than even a secured Wi-Fi hotspot.

Always Enable 2FA

Two-factor authentication (2FA) — also known as two-step verification or multifactor authentication — is widely used to add a layer of security to your online accounts. The most common form of two-factor authentication when logging into an account is the process of entering your password and then receiving a code via text on your phone that you then need to enter.

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The second layer in two-factor authentication means a hacker or other nefarious individual would need to steal your password along with your phone in order to access your account.