Iden­ti­ty theft has been in the news for many years now. And yet, iden­ti­ty fraud has con­tin­ued to grow unabat­ed and is cost­ing our soci­ety bil­lions of dol­lars each and every year. It has been report­ed that iden­ti­ty fraud hits a new vic­tim every two sec­onds. If you do the math, that’s almost 16 mil­lion new vic­tims every year.

So, what can you do to pro­tect your­self against becom­ing a vic­tim? First, know what num­bers iden­ti­ty thieves cov­et. And under­stand, they already real­ize you are pro­tect­ing your social secu­ri­ty num­ber (and if you are not, start doing so imme­di­ate­ly). They are now look­ing for the every­day, mun­dane num­bers that many of us take for grant­ed. And how do they typ­i­cal­ly get that infor­ma­tion? By min­ing social media pro­files for infor­ma­tion. Peo­ple who still don’t have pri­va­cy set­tings on their social media pro­files are prime tar­gets.

Iden­ti­ty thieves will locate pro­files with the most pub­lic infor­ma­tion and send them point­ed offers based on it — like to a favorite restau­rant or retail­er they have list­ed on their pro­files or have vis­it­ed recent­ly. If they’re lucky, this can rope in vic­tims and con­vince them to sup­ply finan­cial infor­ma­tion like their cred­it card num­ber. The eas­i­est way to pre­vent thieves from get­ting this infor­ma­tion is to sim­ply keep it off your social media pages.

 

Here are the current top five numbers you need to safeguard:

 

ZIP Code

Being asked for you ZIP code isn’t nec­es­sar­i­ly a bad thing. If you are at a gas sta­tion fill­ing your tank, you may be asked to enter your ZIP code after swip­ing your cred­it or deb­it card. This is good as it is an added secu­ri­ty mea­sure to deter a thief who might not know the num­ber. On the oth­er hand, being asked for your ZIP code at a brick-and-mor­tar store’s cash reg­is­ter isn’t good. It allows the store to use that infor­ma­tion to fig­ure out your address so you can be put on a mail­ing list or tele­mar­keter call list. If a store asks for this infor­ma­tion, opt out of giv­ing it to them.

 

Birth Date

This infor­ma­tion, along with your name and address, will be enough to allow thieves to buy your social secu­ri­ty num­ber on web­sites that nor­mal­ly sell them to busi­ness­es con­duct­ing back­ground checks. Nev­er put this infor­ma­tion online.

 

Phone Number

When you receive calls with offers for free mer­chan­dise or to get an “extend­ed war­ran­ty” on your 25-year old car that was paid off 22 years ago, HANG-UP! Try­ing to “opt out” won’t help. All that does is to let the mar­keter know they have a live num­ber and you’ll end up with even more calls. One option to com­bat this is to keep your num­ber unlist­ed or blocked for caller ID. But beware; thieves have spe­cial online soft­ware that will allow them to see the num­ber any­way.

 

PINs

Numer­ous arti­cles have been writ­ten on how easy it is for iden­ti­ty thieves to guess a pass­word. When cre­at­ing a pass­word, make sure it is not asso­ci­at­ed with your birth­date, social secu­ri­ty num­ber or address. Also make sure it’s not absurd­ly sim­ple, like “1234” or “1111” or “pass­word”, etc, etc. Use upper and low­er case let­ters, num­bers and, if allowed, spe­cial char­ac­ters such as “@” in the place of the let­ter “O” and “!” in place of the let­ter “L” or “I”. Just make sure the pass­word you cre­ate is easy for you to remem­ber.

 

Passport

Last but not least, pro­tect your pass­port. Not every­one has a pass­port but if you do, make sure it is locked in a safe place. A pass­port num­ber can eas­i­ly open the door to iden­ti­ty theft. If it goes miss­ing, call the State Depart­ment to imme­di­ate­ly deac­ti­vate it and get a new one. If you are out­side the U.S., con­tact the near­est U.S. embassy or con­sulate.

Being the vic­tim of iden­ti­ty theft can be extreme­ly dev­as­tat­ing not only because it’s your mon­ey being stolen, but your name. Iden­ti­ty thieves can be very skilled at find­ing their tar­gets and then exploit­ing their find­ings. For this rea­son, to pro­tect your­self you need to stay all the more alert and knowl­edge­able.