Identity fraud and theft is a serious crime that affects millions of families in America. On average, 12 million Americans are victims of identity theft/fraud annually, with average financial loss per person being 5,000 dollars. In addition, those between age groups 18-24 are most likely to be victims of identity theft.

So what exactly is identity theft? Identity theft is defined by Investopedia as “the crime of obtaining personal or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s name or identity in order to make transactions or purposes.” Although it is similar to masquerading, a form of cyberbullying previously explored, identity fraud and theft can cause significantly more serious and devastating effects both psychologically, and financially.

Identity theft can occur in many different ways. For example, a store’s point-of-sale terminal can be compromised and compromise personal data, just like the recent Target data breach. In other cases, someone may clone your card while you’re paying your bills, intercept your financial transactions and information through a computer virus, wirelessly hack your credit cards, or rummage through your trash can for old checkbooks or past credit card statements.

With the trend of identity theft on the rise, here are some tips that can help you to protect your identity better.

First, secure your personal data through stronger passwords, and change them up frequently. You should also enable two-factor authentication methods. Check your bank account activity regularly, and you can do this through the internet, or through various official bank applications offered on Apple or Google Play (for android) Stores.

Second, be skeptical and aware of scam emails, which can include ones that asks you to change your password, summons you to court, claim your winning lottery ticket, etc. Question the legitimacy of these emails, and if you’re not sure, a quick copy and paste of the first line or two of the email on Google can take you directly to fraud-alerting websites. In addition, do not take calls from the “IRS” or any organizations “on behalf of IRS.” They are very likely to be fake, so do not hand over your credit card or any other personal information. If you are not sure, directly call the IRS to find out more.

Third, buy a shredder and use it! Shred every sensitive documents including checks, credit card statements, old credit cards, and bills. A quick search on Google or Amazon will yield many results on great paper shredders. If you would like higher security shredders, try to get a “micro-cut” instead of a “cross-cut”, such as this one on Amazon.

Fourth, if your bank or other financial institutions offer an alert service for every financial transaction you make, subscribe to it to further monitor your accounts.

Last, invest in a lock for your mailbox, especially if you have the curb-style ones. Some of the classic identity theft cases occur from someone stealing a valuable information from your mailbox.

You can explore further tips on identity theft by visiting this site.

If you are a victim of identity theft, please visit this page by the Federal Trade Commission on dealing with identity theft.