According to an identity fraud report released by Javelin Strategy & Research, more than 11.6 million Americans fell victim to identity fraud in 2012. This is a 13 percent increase of identity theft over the past year, with reports indicating that the trend will continue to grow in 2013. But there are steps you can take to protect your online identity. Nonprofit Money Management International offers these tips:
1. Be cautious when using password-unprotected or public Wi-Fi. Don't shop, use online banking, or do anything requiring the use of sensitive data over networks that are public. Wait until you have access to a secured network to complete those tasks.
2. Use strong passwords when creating online accounts. Change your passwords often and use a long string of words to protect your accounts from getting hacked. This web comic is surprisingly accurate in explaining why creating long passwords are your best defense against a password-hacking computer program. When creating an account with an unfamiliar website, try not to use the same password to a sensitive information source, such as to a bank account or personal email address.
3. Your smartphone is another potential source of stolen information. If you have any saved passwords to banking apps or social media accounts on your smartphone, it is highly recommended to add a passcode, in case it is ever lost or stolen. Don’t forget to also install new updates when they become available—software updates usually include some increase in safety and protection.
4. Make sure online credit card charges are handled through a secure site. Secure web pages contain https instead of the usual http in their URL. Regularly updated firewall, antivirus, and antispyware software can also up the ante on protecting your online identity. Protect your bank account by using a credit card, instead of a debit card, when making online purchases.
5. View your bill statements online. Switching to paperless statements can help prevent identity theft resulting from stolen mail. You can also help reduce your risk of identity theft by opting out of credit card offers, and by protecting the information in your wallet.
6. Don't forget about your social media identity. Be selective with whom you allow to access your pages and cautious about what personal information you reveal. For example, your full birthdate (month, day, year), your mother’s maiden name and your phone number are all prime examples of information a company would use to verify your identity. Take a few seconds to easily amend your profile or the privacy settings that guard it.