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Top 5 Ways to Secure Your Personal Information

Justin J. Kumar, Investment Adviser Representative, Senior Portfolio Manager, Arlington Capital Management
Keeping your personal information out of the wrong hands can be as obvious as using strong passwords to as tricky as not posting about your birthday plans on Facebook.

Data breaches leaked more than 4 billion records in 2016, according to the IBM X-Force Threat Intelligence Index. While people are getting better at recognizing scams and information hacking, taking preventive measures can help avoid unfortunate problems in the future. Oftentimes you can't control how third parties use your information, so it's up to you to do what you can to protect yourself. Here are the top five ways to avoid security breaches:

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1. Be shrewd with your passwords.

Create passwords or PINs (personal identification numbers) either out of a random mix of letters and numbers or by using words and number combinations that are only meaningful to you. Throw in some capitals and special characters, such as @ or #. Doing so makes it harder for identity thieves to discover these codes, and makes it easier for you to prevent identity theft. Do not use the same password for every account, form, website or signup. Do not share your passwords with anyone as a practice. Try to come up with passwords and reminders for them that only you will know. If you choose, you can use an app such as Dashlane or LastPass to store your passwords. Or you could store them on a jump drive, or even put them into cloud storage at your own risk. Unless you intend to keep password information in a lockbox or a safe, it is risky to write the passwords down on paper.

2. Shred any documents with identifying information.

Once your trash leaves your property, it is not in your control, and thieves know it. Shred any pre-approved credit card or credit offers, bank statements, returned checks or sensitive information to prevent thieves from applying for credit in your name or trying to use any checks. Make sure that your shredder does not create strips of paper that are easily reattached.

3. Be careful when giving out personal information.

Identity thieves may call posing as banks or government agencies. To prevent identity theft, do not give out optional or irrelevant personal information, such as your phone number or email, in stores, online or over the phone, unless you initiated the call. As information sharing becomes more rampant and restrictions loosened, you risk losing privacy if you volunteer those pieces of personal information. Also, report any suspicious activity to the proper authorities, such as your local police, or if more serious, to The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) at 202-324-3000 or online at https://tips.fbi.gov.

4. Carry only what you absolutely need.

Do not take your Social Security card or extra credit cards, checks, debit cards, department store cards or gas cards with you on an everyday basis. And when you must have your birth certificate or passport with you, such as when you're traveling, take extra precautions in public places, such as keeping these documents on your person in inconspicuous carrying cases and out of your hands.

5. Do not post sensitive personal information on the Internet or on social media websites.

The world is becoming more digital and interconnected, which has increased both domestic and international criminal activity. Thieves are counting on complacency. Once information is in the public sphere, it is difficult to remove it. Keeping personal information, such as your address, date of birth, telephone number and email, private can help you stay safe.

Did you know? If you even suspect that your credit/debit cards or bank information has been compromised, then you should immediately contact the fraud hotlines and support systems of your providers. The best ones will have full liability protection, fraud suspicion alerts and proactive security measures in place. If you are not getting what you want or did not realize what is offered or included, then it may be time for a change.

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Copyright 2017 The Kiplinger Washington Editors