Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. Here's how you can prevent it.

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In just the last two decades, how we pay for goods and services has dramatically changed. Before the days of online shopping, we paid with cash, checks, and credit and debit cards. While there was some payment fraud with checks and plastic payment options, it wasn’t as rampant as it is today.

The online mobile environment makes it easier for people to pay and get paid for their products and services. Yet for identity thieves, the same environment creates a vast opportunity to steal more. They’ve proven it time and again with large-scale breaches of trusted large companies and organizations such as Target, Experian, and Home Depot. Additionally, identity thieves are targeting medical and tax portals as more organizations digitize their records and transactions.

When you can’t count on large companies and organizations to secure your personal information, you need to understand potential identity theft pitfalls and learn how to avoid them.

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1. Weak password protection

Password Box in Internet Browser

This is one of the biggest mistakes individuals make out of a fear they will forget their passwords. Sometimes, weak passwords arise out of complacency— “it won’t happen to me” or “my password isn’t my birthday, so it’s strong enough.” Identity thieves can easily take advantage of vulnerabilities such as passwords based on names and birthdays, or which are identical to passwords used on other sites.

Solution: To avoid this pitfall, use a password management tool to store all your passwords. Use it to generate randomized passwords every few months that consist of a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers.

2. Lack of personal document protection

Individuals have become so reliant on digital transaction processes that they may forget about the physical documentation that identity thieves can also use. This includes documents like passports, birth certificates, and Social Security cards, as well as credit and debit cards. Thieves can steal these personal documents from homes, offices, vehicles, handbags, and garbage cans.

Solution: Keep all documents containing sensitive personal data in a safe or safety deposit box. Don’t leave anything valuable in your vehicle. Lastly, ensure your handbag or wallet is in your possession or otherwise secured. You may even want to consider an RFID wallet that protects credit and debit cards from certain devices hackers may employ to gain access to encrypted information.

3. Lack of review and awareness

Another pitfall is the lack of awareness and the failure to keep track of vulnerabilities and data breaches. It’s easy to become so busy that there’s no time to stay on top of every breach, scam or threat, let alone periodically check all your bank and charge accounts. Yet failing to pay attention can turn you into an easy if unwitting target.

Solution: To prevent this from happening, consider subscribing to an identity theft protection service. These services track your accounts and credit reports for any signs of potential identity theft. Additionally, find out which of your financial services providers offer their own apps and security alerts, and sign up for them. Lastly, be sure to monitor your credit by getting a copy of your credit report from three main agencies every year.

4. No backup plan

Should there be a security breach or unauthorized access to documentation, it’s important to address it quickly. Unfortunately, time is of the essence in identity theft, and a failure to stop it promptly can compound the damage. Time counts in these situations as ID thieves go to work to see how much money they can steal or how many fraudulent purchases they can make before an account is closed or blocked.

Solution: To stop the identity theft as soon as you suspect something is wrong, be sure to have copies of credit, debit, and ID cards as well as other personal documents. Along with the copies, keep the phone numbers of each organization linked to those cards and documents, so you can report the theft or loss.

5. Too many accounts and lists

With every website or app, there is a sign-up form. Once you start submitting those forms, your identifying information is out there. It may even potentially sold to other lists and companies. Being on these lists for things like pre-approved credit cards can make you a target for mail and email thieves. If a thief gets hold of one of those offers, they can easily redeem it for an actual credit card and enjoy a shopping spree on your dime.

Solution: To reduce the risk for this ID threat, unsubscribe from as many online accounts as possible. Look for contact information to make sure your name is no longer included on lists that are sold to other companies. Finally, if you have a number of credit card accounts open that you are not using, close them. You are most likely not tracking them, plus you’ll no longer have to account for that card in your wallet or at home.

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About the Author

John Boitnott

John Boitnott

I am a tech writer and journalist for more than 20 years who contributes to several respected online publications including BusinessInsider, Inc., and Entrepreneur. In addition to journalism, writing about social good companies and in-depth research, I’m also active in my community and enjoy metaphysical book reading groups, as well as hiking on the amazing trails of the San Francisco Bay Area.

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