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You can do everything right and still have your identity stolen 6 Warning Signs Of Digital Identity Theft You Shouldn't Ignore 6 Warning Signs Of Digital Identity Theft You Shouldn't Ignore Identity theft isn't too rare of an occurrence these days, yet we often fall into the trap of thinking that it'll always happen to "someone else". Don't ignore the warning signs. Read More . If 2014 has taught us anything about security, it’s this: you cannot trust companies to keep your data safe. That doesn’t mean you should stop using their services, but you should be wary and learn how to protect yourself.

“It Won’t Happen To Me” Syndrome is one of the worst security habits Change Your Bad Habits & Your Data Will Be More Secure Change Your Bad Habits & Your Data Will Be More Secure Read More and it can lead you into a lot of trouble if it goes unchecked. If you think identity theft won’t happen to you, please reconsider. These days, nobody is safe from online fraud.

The Customer Data Hackpocalypse

2014 was not a good year for companies and data security. Month after month, we’ve seen case after case of customer information — e.g. login credentials, personal details, and credit card numbers — ending up in the wrong hands. Sometimes it happens by way of a security loophole; other times, a rogue employee.

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In January, Target reported a massive data breach that affected somewhere around 70 million users. What was stolen? On top of credit card numbers and PIN information, the thieves got away with full names, physical addresses, and phone numbers. The Target incident is one of the highest profile breaches in the past five years.

In February, hackers were able to get into Kickstarter’s databases and pull customer information, including usernames, passwords, email addresses, and phone numbers.

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In March, eBay experienced a big setback when a significant portion of their customer database was hacked into and stolen. To pull this off, the hackers used compromised eBay employee login credentials to navigate the corporate network. Stolen data included full names, passwords, physical addresses, and phone numbers.

In April, AT&T reported being hacked by three of their contractors. These contractors gained access to a database of personal records which included social security numbers.

We could go on and on, but suffice it say: sensitive information is never as secure as you think it is. If you aren’t already taking measures to protect yourself against identity theft, consider this a wake-up call.

Protect Your Passwords

We’ve written at length regarding the importance of password security. In most cases, your password is the only thing standing between a malicious user and all of your sensitive data. If your password breaks, that’s game over. Two-factor authentication What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It What Is Two-Factor Authentication, And Why You Should Use It Two-factor authentication (2FA) is a security method that requires two different ways of proving your identity. It is commonly used in everyday life. For example paying with a credit card not only requires the card,... Read More helps mitigate this to some extent, but not entirely.

Always pick a strong password. You cannot neglect this. Don’t succumb to laziness here. Passwords like “aaaaaa”, “qwerty”, and “asdf123” are so weak that you may as well be using no password at all. Here are some tips on creating strong and memorable passwords 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable 7 Ways To Make Up Passwords That Are Both Secure & Memorable Having a different password for each service is a must in today's online world, but there's a terrible weakness to randomly generated passwords: it's impossible to remember them all. But how can you possibly remember... Read More .

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Never repeat a password. Using one password for everything is a common security mistake 5 Common Security Mistakes That Can Put Your Privacy & Money At Risk 5 Common Security Mistakes That Can Put Your Privacy & Money At Risk How vulnerable are you? Ask any person who’s been robbed if it came as a surprise - I guarantee you it did. As the saying goes, the thief always comes in the night when you’re... Read More . As soon as one account is breached, all of your other accounts are immediately at risk. Use unique passwords for each account. (You can ignore this for accounts that aren’t too important, such as throwaway email addresses.)

Update passwords regularly. Ideally, you should update your important passwords once every few months. That way, if your account data is covertly stolen, that data quickly becomes outdated. If this sounds like a burden, password managers 5 Password Management Tools Compared: Find the One That's Perfect for You 5 Password Management Tools Compared: Find the One That's Perfect for You Choosing some sort of password management strategy to deal with the huge amount of passwords we need is crucial. If you're like most people, you probably store your passwords in your brain. To remember them... Read More can make this process easier.

Diversify Emails & Payments

“Don’t put all your eggs in one basket,” they say. Unsurprisingly, some of that truth can also apply to your email addresses and payment methods. If you’re a little confused right now, that’s okay. Let me explain.

Use separate email accounts. It’s an important email security tip 7 Important Email Security Tips You Should Know About 7 Important Email Security Tips You Should Know About Internet security is a topic that we all know to be important, but it often sits way back in the recesses of our minds, fooling ourselves into believing that "it won’t happen to me". Whether... Read More that seems like a hassle but can prove worthwhile in the long run.

For many of us, our inboxes are the gateway to our other online accounts. If a company is hacked and someone gains access to your inbox, they’re one step closer to everything else. Separate email accounts can mitigate this to a degree.

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Use multiple payment methods. Splitting your funds between multiple sources (e.g. debit accounts and online wallets) can help protect you against losing everything at once. For example, if you purchase eBay goods with PayPal and eBay is hacked, only your PayPal account is at risk. This holds true for PayPal alternatives Why You Don’t Have To Use PayPal For Online Transactions: 5 PayPal Alternatives Why You Don’t Have To Use PayPal For Online Transactions: 5 PayPal Alternatives Online shopping and online purchases have grown into something so important in many of our lives that it’s strange, at least for me, to think of a world where it doesn’t exist. PayPal is one... Read More as well.

Obviously, this isn’t a catch-all solution. If you only have one credit card, then you don’t really have a choice but to use that particular card. Similarly, most people only have one home address or one social security number. But as a general rule, diversify whenever possible.

Stay Alert & Proactive

This form of identity theft — the kind where someone gains access to your information due to a company’s mistake — is completely out of your control. Therefore, your best line of defense (other than strict avoidance of the Internet altogether) is to be proactive.

Review your statements. Whether they’re bank statements, credit card statements, or PayPal statements, you should regularly check in on your balances and keep a lookout for strange activity. If anything seems out of place, contact customer service right away and make sure nothing is wrong.

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Don’t save personal information. Despite the convenience of it, try to avoid storing your personal details (e.g. card numbers) on websites like Amazon, eBay, and bill payment services. Yes, it’s a pain in the neck to input that info every time you want to make a payment, but it’s also safer.

Watch out for scams. Deception happens all over the web. You’ve got eBay scams 5 eBay Scams To Be Aware Of 5 eBay Scams To Be Aware Of Being scammed sucks, especially on eBay. You invest all of that time into selling a particular product or you spend a lot of time researching the perfect item, complete the transaction, and then… nothing. The... Read More , Craigslist scams Taking The Battle To Craigslist Scammers: How To Avoid Scams On Craigslist Taking The Battle To Craigslist Scammers: How To Avoid Scams On Craigslist Launched way back in 1995, Craigslist took the Internet world by storm with its innovative cross of classified ads with the web. But as with all Internet-based transactions, some users prefer to game the system... Read More , and holiday scams 5 Online Scams To Be Aware Of This Christmas 5 Online Scams To Be Aware Of This Christmas It is the season of cheer and joy, but there are malicious people out there who will capitalize on your good spirits to scam you out of a lot of money. Stay alert. Read More . Read about them, learn how to detect them, and stay far away. Phishing What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? What Exactly Is Phishing & What Techniques Are Scammers Using? I’ve never been a fan of fishing, myself. This is mostly because of an early expedition where my cousin managed to catch two fish while I caught zip. Similar to real-life fishing, phishing scams aren’t... Read More is another kind of scam to watch out for.

How Do YOU Avoid Online Fraud?

It’s scary to consider just how much damage can be wrought by malicious users on the Internet. You could lose everything in the blink of an eye.

What are you doing to keep your identity safe? Have you ever had to deal with a stolen identity? Share your thoughts and experiences with us below!

Image Credits: Programmer Via Shutterstock, Target Via Shutterstock, eBay Via Shutterstock, Password Via Shutterstock, Credit Cards Via Shutterstock, Bank Balance Via Shutterstock

  1. Mathew Locke
    November 16, 2014 at 5:08 pm

    Avoid using debit cards if at all possible. This is a directly line into your account and if it gets compromised, there go your funds. If you must use a debit card, use a specific one for shopping and transfer fund from your main account. Works great.

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2014 at 12:51 am

      Nice tip! It can be a hassle to set up a dedicated account for debit card use (or maybe not, depending on your bank) but I think the benefits outweigh the one-time inconvenience.

  2. Joe
    November 15, 2014 at 11:26 pm

    I use 2 Factor Authentication on anything that offers it.

    • Joel Lee
      November 18, 2014 at 12:49 am

      Nice, I agree with that. Two Factor may not be flawless but it's important anyway, plus it's not even that much of a hassle. Completely worth it.

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