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According to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission), identity theft is the #1 growing crime in North America. With an average cost to the United States economy of around $53 billion, it hits pretty hard. Times have changed, however, in the way the theft is perpetrated. Nearly gone are the days of mailbox theft of credit card and bank statements; today, online shopping sites and new “phishing” scams are the key targets.

“Phishing” is the most common scam; a term used to describe when you receive an email asking you to “update your account information”. They may tell you that the account is scheduled for deletion or that, in absolute irony, that there was a security breach at the site and the site needs you to verify that the account information is correct and not replaced with different inputs. Money transfer services (such as Paypal) and online auction sites (such as E-bay) are consistently being faked in phishing scams. Victims of phishing are usually redirected to a non-secure website to trap your inputed information for their own purposes.

These are some identity theft steps to take:

(1) Don’t have your personal information on your checks, like your driver’s license number or your Social Security Number. Sure it is a timesaver at the grocery, but it’s a have for theft.

(2) Don’t make your passwords about to be matched up to you. This means no birthdays, anniversaries, maiden names, pet’s names, etc. Make it as nonsensical as you can, preferably with numbers and letters that could not be guessed.

(3) Never throw away your receipts or bank ATM inquiries in public trash cans. People can lift your information from them quite easily.

(4) Check your credit report and credit card transactions thoroughly. Don’t just assume everything is ok. Dispute anything you don’t recognize.

Identity theft has come a long way since the early days of dumpster diving for paper receipts, but it still happens. Today’s technology has browser hijackers and fake business addresses of many companies designed for trapping your information to the tune of an average of $17,000 per victim.

Be smart and stay alert to new ways to steal your personal information. Never share your computer with others or do personal financial business on an internet cafĂ©’ computer or the library’s computers. Invest in a paper shredder and remember, it isn’t paranoia, it’s just good sense.