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Take a few simple steps and lower your risk of identity theft

It can happen to anybody, anytime, anywhere and you never see it coming. Identity theft can be a nightmare to work through. You feel violated and scared, wondering just how much has been taken from you, afraid of what more could be stolen in the future, and honestly, how much it will cost you to recover both emotionally and financially.

So how can you help protect yourself against this increasingly prevalent, highly damaging crime?

There is no foolproof method, but these five simple actions can help you protect your identity from would-be thieves.

  • Step 1: Secure your information. Storing all important personal documents in a safe place is a very simple step to take. Passports, birth certificates, insurance paperwork, financial statements and especially Social Security cards should be secured. Small home safes or bank safe deposit boxes are both excellent options.
  • Step 2: Destroy your old documents. Invest in a shredder for your home, preferably the kind that cross-shreds paper and can manage credit cards. Don't throw away anything that has personal information. Shred it.
  • Step 3: Protect your passwords. Almost everything we use today requires passwords or PINs and they are surprisingly easy to steal. Try to vary your passwords and change them regularly (approximately every 6 months or so). Many sites require a combination of letters, symbols, and numbers, but if they don't, try to mix it up anyway.
  • Step 4: Safe shopping habits. Stick with secure websites. Depending on your web browser, there may be a green lock identifying site security but a general rule of thumb is that secure sites start with "https." Online shopping is not the only opportunity for identity thieves to lift your data. Make sure your wallet is always on your person, your credit card is always in your sight, and that you take your receipt.
  • Step 5: Track your credit reports. There are several sites that will provide your credit report to you for free each year. Monitor your credit report for accounts you haven't opened or any other suspicious activity.

Don't make yourself an easy target, take the time to care for your personal and financial information. If you stay vigilant, you may be able to catch instances of theft and address the problem before criminals do too much, or worse, damage you cannot erase.

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