Written by Nikki Ducas

Before answering that survey on social media, giving your personal information to a stranger on the phone or in an email, or using unsecured Wi-Fi, have you ever thought, “Is this too good to be true?” The old adage hasn’t changed: if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Run—don’t walk—away.

Identity theft is defined as the fraudulent use of personally identifiable information (PII) by a thief to obtain goods, services, and/or employment; commit a crime; gain a benefit; or to prevent revealing the thief’s real identity.

Thieves do their homework. Scammers are professional, not coercive, and know a great deal of personal information about you already. They steal unused credit card checks from your trash, they shoulder surf while you are on a computer in public, and they hack into “free” Wi-Fi hot spots.

Don’t make it easy for thieves. Watch what you share on social media and don’t store credit card information with online retailers. PII includes, but is not limited to, name, social security number, birthday, address, driver’s license number, telephone number, passport information, birth certificate, student transcript or medical records.

Paul A. Vann, who is a chief information security officer, shared these eight best practices for protecting your identity:

  • Use multi-factor authentication everywhere it is available
  • Secure your digital devices with passwords
  • Use strong passwords that are at least 12 characters long
  • Don’t carry your social security card with you; don’t give it unless it is required
  • Freeze your credit so only you can establish new credit
  • Use credit cards for all purchases; stop using and carrying your debit cards
  • Monitor accounts and credit often
  • Use a shredder at home and at work

I am a Xennial. I had an analog childhood and I am living a digital adulthood. I hit the technology revolution as I was graduating college and my children are surpassing me in their knowledge of new technologies. Not only did I need to learn to protect my information, but now I need to teach my children how to protect their identities online. In next month’s column, I will discuss the ages and stages of Child Identity Theft.

 If you suspect your identity has been stolen, visit the Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Information page about Identity Theft at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft.