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How to protect yourself from online identity theft

Identity theft represents a growing threat to consumers. A study by digital research group, Javelin, estimated that 15 millions consumers were impacted by identity fraud in 2016. The amount of money stolen jumped from $1 billion to $16 billion.

While advances in technology, such as EVP smart card chips have are making it more difficult for thieves to steal identity, these individuals are constantly adapting and finding new ways to take advantage of consumers. In addition to phishing emails, which are getting better, thieves are now taking advantage of personal information available on social media sites, such as Facebook to gather personal information and open new accounts.

7 ways to protect yourself from identity theft

How can you protect yourself? Follow these steps:

· Monitor your accounts -- Auto payments have made it easier to pay bills on time, but it can also be tempting to ignore these accounts and not look at them. Take the time to look at your credit card accounts at least once a month. Check your banking activity weekly. The best way to minimize the impact of identity theft is to catch it early.

· Watch your credit report -- If a thief opens a credit account in your name, you will likely not notice it unless it shows up on your credit report. Staying vigilant about protecting your credit will make a difference.

· Do not open emails from unknown sources -- One of the ways thieves access your information is by incorporating bugs into emails that will crawl your computer for personal information. If you do not recognize the sender of an email or an email address looks unfamiliar, do not open it.

· Guard your passwords -- Do not store passwords on your browsers or in your computer. It is best to store your passwords in a safe place

· Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi -- Many public Wi-Fi connections are not secure. Other people using the same Wi-Fi network may be able to access your computer. Avoid online banking and entering passwords online when connected to a public Wi-Fi network.

· Take advantage of two-factor authentication (2FA) -- Two-factor authentication provides an added layer of protection against stolen passwords. Banks, brokerage accounts and other financial institutions send account holders a one-time code to access their account after they have entered their password. This prevents thieves from accessing your account if they steal your password.

· Talk to a lawyer -- Consumer rights lawyers can help you if you have been a victim of consumer fraud. They can even help you correct credit reporting errors.

To protect ourselves from identity theft, we all have to stay vigilant.

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