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3 keys to protecting your identity from thieves

Yahoo has agreed to pay a settlement of $50 million over a data breach lawsuit that affected 200 million users in the United States and Israel, TechCrunch reported this week. The breaches began in 2013, but Yahoo did not report them publicly until 2016, following an announcement that the company’s core business was being acquired by Verizon. As part of the settlement, Yahoo will also pay $35 million in legal fees, provide affected users with credit monitoring services for two years, and refund premium users up to 25 percent of their payments.

This type of data breach has become a common story in recent years. The number of major breaches rose from 614 in 2013 to 1,579 in 2017, increasing 44 percent over the last year alone, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center. Whether you’re a consumer or a business, it’s crucial to take steps to protect yourself against this growing threat.

Practice smart online security

Identity thieves target Internet users, so following online security best practices is critical for protecting yourself. Many identity theft victims are vulnerable because they use predictable passwords such as “password” or “123456,” says Verizon. Use a secure password with at least 12 characters if possible, mixing capital and small letters with numbers and symbols. Password management software can help you generate and store secure random passwords.

Cyberthieves often target vulnerabilities in outdated software, so keep your operating systems and apps updated, and use an antivirus program that incorporates the latest security patches. Only use secure connections such as VPN connections when sending sensitive information online, and avoid using public Wi-Fi hotspots. Keep important data backed up so that you can recover it if you fall victim to a ransomware attack. Avoid opening suspicious emails or clicking on attachments from senders you don’t know.

Protect your paperwork

Identity thieves can also target you by gaining access to sensitive physical documents such as tax returns. To protect sensitive items you send in the mail, hand them directly to your carrier or place them in a slot inside the post office, rather than placing them in your mailbox or in a public mailbox that can be broken into. Pick up your mail promptly after delivery. Ask your post office to hold your mail if you’re going to be on vacation, and notify the post office when you change your address, along with any companies who send you mail regularly.

It’s also important to securely store sensitive documents such as Social Security cards and birth certificates. Leave these types of documents locked up in a locked file, safe, or safe deposit box rather than carrying them in your wallet or purse. Don’t store sensitive documents in obvious places where burglars can find them, such as in a nightstand.

Monitor your identity for suspicious activity

You may do all the right things to protect your identity, but one of your financial, healthcare, or Internet providers may still suffer a breach, as the case of Yahoo illustrates. This makes it important to stay alert for suspicious activity in case your identity has become stolen without your knowledge. The best way to do this is to subscribe to an identity theft protection service to monitor your financial and credit accounts for suspicious activity and send you automated alerts so you can take prompt action.

Additionally, check your credit card statements regularly for signs of any unauthorized transactions. You can also request a free copy of your credit report once a year from the three major credit bureaus. If you are concerned about suspicious activity, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report, which notifies credit providers to contact you to verify your permission before extending any new credit lines in your name.

Identity theft is a growing threat, but you can reduce your risks of becoming a victim by following preventive security measures. Use security best practices when going online, such as choosing strong passwords and using secure connections. Safeguard sensitive paper documents by using secure mail management practices and keeping important papers in a secure location. Use an identity theft protection service and credit report checking to monitor your identity so you can detect suspicious activity and take corrective action. Following these guidelines will help you protect yourself and keep you from falling prey to identity thieves.