There are many types of identity theft; but according to a report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics, 85 percent of identity theft cases involve fraudulent usage of the victim’s bank account and credit card information. With this in mind, here are five tips to help you avoid identity theft by protecting your financial information.

1. Stay on top of charge accounts

Review all of your existing accounts regularly — including revolving charge accounts —so that you can catch any fraudulent charges. Also, make sure to take advantage of the fraud protection programs offered by your charge account companies and banks.

2. Only buy from secure vendors at trusted sites

Shop responsibly. Only use e-commerce websites that have “https” in their URL. The most secure sites are also certified with a security seal of approval — and many of these sites offer a lock in the taskbar for extra security. Also, check to see if the website has security features such as encrypted connections and buyer protection programs. Likewise, if you’re using an auction site or buying from private sellers, use a credit card that protects your purchases. Finally, never give out your Social Security number — no e-commerce site should ever ask for it.

3. Use passwords responsibly

Try to create strong passwords that can’t be easily accessed, and use different passwords for your accounts — this will mitigate risks in case a password is compromised. Also, change your passwords several times a year. In addition, don’t store them in your computer; instead, memorize them or store them in a safe physical place.

4. Pay attention to alerts

If you see a security alert on a site you regularly use, or you receive a security alert email, don’t ignore it. Likewise, if bank or credit card representatives call you to check on past charges, be sure and talk to them — they may have found a discrepancy due to fraudulent charges. Make sure, however, that any email or phone alerts you receive really are from your bank or credit card, and aren’t from scammers trying to get personal information.

5. Use extreme care during ATM transactions

Don’t let anyone hover near you during ATM transactions. If you see suspicious-looking people hanging around an ATM, or if the machine is in an isolated area, don’t use it.

Identity theft can affect anyone, but the good news is that you can be proactive in avoiding it. By using a bit of common sense and staying on top of your bank and credit card accounts, you can mitigate your risks of becoming a victim.

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