Are you worried about identity theft? Identity theft is when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. No matter who you are, if an identity thief gets the right information about you they could steal money from your accounts; apply for credit cards; take out loans; use your medical insurance and more. And you would be the one responsible for paying for all of it. At least until you prove that it wasn’t you, which could take months or even years. So start taking steps to keep all of that from ending up on your credit report and preventing you from getting the jobs, loans, credit cards and housing that you want.

Things you can do to help protect yourself and your identity:

1. Watch out for imposters. Be suspicious of anything or anyone asking about you, your family, your colleagues, or any other private information. Treat your personal information like cash. Don’t leave it lying around and don’t send it in email.

2. Shred physical documents that contain personal information. And when disposing of devices or drives wipe and overwrite all memory.

3. Keep your browser secure.

4. Look for a lock icon on the status bar and a website that begins with https before you send personal or financial information online.

5. Also don’t use insecure Wi-Fi. It could let others access your computer and information.

6. Don’t share or reuse your passwords. And don’t write them down where others can see them. When logging in don’t use the “Remember Me” function. And be sure to log out of all accounts and close your browser when you’re finished.

7. Don’t overshare on social networking sites. What you post online could be used to answer challenge questions on your accounts to get access to your money and personal information. Someone could even change the passwords on your account so you couldn’t get in anymore. Keep your pages private and don’t post personal information on public sites.

8. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, firewalls, and email filters on personal devices.

9. Avoid phishing emails. Be wary of any email asking for you to click on a link to update your record. If you believe there is a need to update your record, visit the site directly and update your record there.

10. And don’t click on ads or download files from sources you can’t trust.

11. Don’t give out your social security number to just anyone.

12. When paying for something online use your credit card instead of your debit card so you can be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act in case someone steals your card information.

13. Review financial account statements and immediately report any suspicious or unusual activity to your financial institutions.

14. Request your free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. You may want to stagger when you get each one so that you have the most up to date information every few months. Watch for clues that someone has stolen your information. And take steps immediately to fix them.

While these tips won’t guarantee that your identity will never be stolen, they do go a long way in preventing your information from falling into the wrong hands. And prevention is protection. Help yourself protect yourself so that you don’t become a victim.