Identity threat continues to be on the rise. Did you know it is estimated 15 million U.S. residents have had their identities used fraudulently each year? Not only that, the financial losses exceeded $50 billion. 1 This is just in the United States alone. These stats also do not include the people who are at risk due to the increased number of data breaches occurring. In 2014 there were 1,540 breaches globally - this is an increase of 46 percent over 2013. 2

Despite the increase of public awareness about the issue, thieves are becoming savvier in the ways they try to steal personal information. As a result, it has become increasingly important to be proactive in protecting yourself from becoming a victim.

Identity theft
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Since many organizations have become computerized, your personal information is becoming digitized and stored in various databases. While the value of information systems is understood, a huge drawback is you have no control over how your information is stored and what protective measures have been put in place to safeguard your information.

Additionally, many transactions are now done online, and this means there is a higher chance your information can be stolen or used without your permission. While identity theft is a very real concern in today's world and it is just about impossible to try to control, there are still some ways you can actively protect yourself in order to reduce the odds of having your identity stolen.

Here are some of the ways you can mitigate the risk of becoming a victim of identity theft:

Safeguard Your Social Security Number

Your Social Security number is essentially your lifeline because everything is about you is attached to it. If an identity thief were to obtain your number they would have a field day with your personal information. Once your Social Security number is compromised, it can really wreak havoc on your life.

To protect this valuable number, the best thing to do is commit your Social Security number to memory and keep the physical card locked up in a safe location where a thief cannot have access to it.

Social Security Card
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Protect Important Documents

In addition to your Social Security (or, if not in the U.S., the equivalent), it is a good idea to lock up documents such as your birth certificate, passport (when not in use) and other personally identifying documents which someone could use to obtain a driver's license or other photo ID.

Additionally, you'll want to protect your digital documents as well. Protect your passwords, use different combinations for each account you use and do not leave them written down where they can be easily accessed by prying eyes.

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Make Copies of Important Cards and Documents

Another protective measure is to make copies of all of your credit cards, IDs and other important documents and keep these locked up in a separate place from your physical cards. This way if one goes missing you have all the pertinent information you'll need to prove your identity if an issue arises. Just remember to be careful where you make these copies.

Monitor Your Credit Report

It is important you keep tabs on your credit report to monitor if any unusual activity occurs. By regularly checking your credit report you can immediately see if anything appears out-of-place; if something strange-looking shows up you can investigate to make sure someone isn't illicitly using your personal information.

Report Stolen IDs and/or Credit Cards

If you come to find your credit card, driver's license or other identification has gone missing, you should report this immediately to make sure it is documented. If an identity thief gets a hold of one of your cards there is no telling what he or she will do with them. If the card missing is one of your credit cards, you should carefully watch credit card activity after this occurs to make sure your account isn't being abused.

Credit: stevepb via Pixabay CC0 Public Domain

Be Cautious about Online Transactions

When you send information over the Internet, be sure you have good firewall and anti-virus software installed. Additionally, it is important to learn how to tell the difference between safe and trusted sites when you share information. Look for the URL to indicate "https" in the beginning of the web address and look for the padlock on the lower right hand side of the webpage to show it is a secured web page.

For online business, it is a good idea to only shop or share information with reputable websites, if you are not familiar with the business or agency running the website, you may want to reconsider sharing personal information because you never know where it might end up.

Which leads to . . .

Read Privacy Policies

Companies are required to put out a document which outlines what personal information will be asked of you, why it is used and who it will be shared with. You can reduce the risks of your personal information falling into the wrong hands if you understand everything contained in the privacy policy.

Unfortunately, many people do not read these important documents and it isn't until later they realize their information has been shared with organizations they would have preferred it not be given. Some of the third parties information is shared with are not reputable. Once an organization shares with one company, it opens up a plethora of other companies your information may be shared with.

Get Savvy About Internet Risks

In addition to installing a firewall and anti-virus software it is a good idea to become versed in malware, SPAM and phishing. These are all techniques identity thieves will use to try and extract personal information from you but, if you are wise to their tricks and learn how to recognize their schemes, this will significantly reduce your risks of falling victim to one.

Identity theft
Credit: Don Hankins via Flickr/CC by 2.0

Check Your Mail

Another protective measure is to either invest in a post office box or buy a mailbox for which a key is needed to open the box. Identity thieves often steal mail right out of mailboxes to obtain bank statements, credit card bills or other valuable mail they can use to create a new identity for themselves. 

If you know when your statements or bills are due to arrive, you can immediately realize if one doesn't arrive on time and you can contact the bank or company to let them know you never received it.

Invest in a Paper Shredder

Identity thieves aren't above good 'ol fashioned dumpster diving. They commonly engage in this activity to obtain bits of information they can piece together to produce an entire profile. If you routinely shred all documents you no longer need, this eliminates the chances someone will go "dumpster diving" through your trash. For those times you must save specific documents which contain sensitive information, keep them in a locked filing cabinet.

In its video outlining ways you can protect yourself, the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) also points out to check your health insurance statements. Make sure you received care for the treatments listed.

Identity theft is a huge problem in today's society, but if you understand the risks and learn all of the different ways you can protect yourself, while nothing is 100 percent, you can significantly reduce the risk of a thief stealing the personal information that is in your control.