Identity theft is a serious problem in the United States. Ac­cording to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, there were 17.6 mil­lion reports of stolen identities in 2014 with an average of $3,500 in losses. In an effort to protect your identity, always be careful about what information you share. In­formation that should be protect­ed include your name, social secu­rity number (SSN), date of birth, phone number, and address.

Be sure to shred documents and receipts. These pieces of pa­per contain personal information on them. Any document that has personal information on it such as bank receipts, register receipts, bills, medical records, etc. should be shredded. It is best to use a cross-cut shredder, as that will distort the information.

Be careful about who you give your SSN number to. Only give someone your SSN if you abso­lutely have to. Try asking if there are any other forms of identifica­tion you can give instead. Do not walk around with your SSN card or have it written down anywhere unless you have to. It is best to keep your SSN card locked in a hidden fire and waterproof safe.

Another way that thieves can get personal information is by hacking onto devices and ac­counts. It is very important to have a password protected lock screen on your phone, tablet, and computer. It is also crucial to have anti-spam/virus software installed. This will help protect you from hackers and keep you at less risk from unsafe websites. Having a proper password for all accounts is important as well. For example, no one should leave their account pass­word as their birthday because it is easily hackable. Also don’t have your password be “password” or “123456.” Those are some of the most popular passwords, which makes your account easier to at­tack. Keep your passwords long with varying numbers, letters and special characters. Try to have a different password for each ac­count and change them every couple of months to increase se­curity. Be careful when downloading apps on your phone. Before downloading an app, read what permissions are required for the app to run. Many apps require a lot of extra unnec­essary permissions. If you are un­sure about an app, read through the ratings and comments to see if anyone has had problems with it.

Lastly, protect yourself from phishing scams. Phishing scams are emails and phone calls that claim to be a part of a trustwor­thy organization, but are actually just trying to get information out of you in order to steal your iden­tity or request money from you. According to Auburn University, these emails can look so convinc­ing that 80,000 people fall for them every day. You can always call the company the email is claiming to be prior to entering in any infor­mation, to ensure it is legit.

Always be careful about who you give your information to. If you think your identity might have been stolen, call your local police station.

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