A Publication of WTVP

A rising risk of identity theft online requires additional precautions to protect your personal information.

It seems there is always a news story about phishing or identity theft, but that should be no surprise, given the popular rise in smartphone devices, social media and cloud computing. According to the Javelin Strategy & Research Firm, nearly 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2011, a 13 percent increase from 2010. Further, most victims were not even aware that their identity was stolen until they were denied credit or housing. With those outrageous numbers, it makes sense for consumers to be extra-cautious when it comes to their identity.

Consumers generally connect identity theft with credit cards and social security cards, but they also need to be cautious when typing on their smartphone or updating their Facebook status. What consumers may not realize is how much information they’re unknowingly providing to potential thieves through social networks. They should use caution if they choose to take part in these new high-tech communities.

It is imperative to safeguard personal information and take advantage of all tips and strategies to avoid this emotional and financially devastating crime. Don’t just assume it will never happen to you—be proactive so you can continue to live a safe and happy lifestyle.

Keep antivirus software up to date. It is important to update and run antivirus software on a regular basis on all computer devices, including smartphones. Most people do not realize smartphones have antivirus software, so make it a priority to acquire the software and update it frequently to keep all information safe and sound.

• Use strong passwords. While it can be inconvenient to create passwords with a mix of letters, symbols and numbers—making them at least six characters long and changing them once every three weeks—it will be worth it in the long run. It’s also important to avoid using passwords such as birthdays, common words or the last four digits of your social security number. Create a unique password for each of your accounts, so it’s impossible for identity thieves to access all of your information.

• Use cloud computing with caution. Use multiple passwords and secure browsers, and never open unknown files. Make it a top priority to install antivirus software.

• Be extra-cautious on social media websites. Make sure privacy settings are set on all social media pages, but don’t just rely on these settings. Be aware of who you are “friending,” and be cautious in choosing the information you include in your profile, such as your address, phone number or birthday.

• Lock up all personal information. Keep all personal information, including social security cards, passports, birth certificates and bank statements, in a secure place at home or work to avoid identity theft and the cost of replacing them. If you do not need single pieces of personal information, make sure to shred the documents.

• Routinely monitor accounts and statements. It is imperative to check accounts online and offline every month. Be alert to signs that require immediate attention, such as unexpected statements, denials of credit, or calls about purchases you did not make. If you go out of town, line up a family member or friend to take your mail so statements aren’t at risk of getting stolen.

It is vital to utilize these tips and strategies to avoid identity thieves. However, if you become a victim, act as soon as you suspect a problem. Place a fraud alert on credit reports, close any compromised accounts, file a police report and report your complaint to the FTC.

Not only can identity theft result in financial loss, it can destroy your reputation. According to TransUnion, it takes victims about 30 hours and $500 to resolve identity fraud. Don’t wait until you’re a victim— take the necessary precautions now.iBi