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From January through April of this year, online thieves have stolen more than 12 million pieces of personal information, according to Experian. This is a 200 percent increase since 2010. If you’ve created an email address, Facebook account, or paid a bill online, you’ve created an online identity. It’s important to remember how much of your information can be found online. Billing information, personal account numbers, including those for credit cards and bank accounts, and social security numbers are just a few examples. Nonprofit Money Management International (MMI) offers a few practical tips to help protect yourself and your online identity:

— Be cautious when using public Wi-Fi. These networks can put your information at risk. Don’t shop, perform online banking tasks, or do anything requiring the use of personal identification information over networks that are public. Take care of these activities over a secured network.

— Use strong passwords when creating personal accounts online. Changing passwords often and using numbers, symbols, and uppercase letters can protect your accounts from getting hacked. Adding a passcode to your iPhone or smartphone can also give you that extra protection in case it is ever stolen.

— Make sure online credit card charges are handled through a secure site. You’ll know it’s a secure site if the Web page in which you conduct your transaction begins with https instead of the usual http. Be sure to use firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spyware software that you update regularly. MMI offers a quiz to help determine if your online shopping habits are considered safe. Also, consider using a credit card instead of a debit card when making online purchases to protect your bank accounts.

— View your bill statements online. Switching to paperless statements can help prevent identity theft resulting from stolen mail. You can also help reduce your risk of identity theft by opting out of credit card offers, and by protecting the information in your wallet.

— Don’t forget about your social media identity. Be selective with who you allow to access your sites and cautious about what personal information you reveal. Talk with your family about this important topic and make sure you are all on the same page. Your risk of fraud is greater in such a high-tech world. Also, regularly erasing your Internet data such as websites visited, cookies, history, and confidential information can help give you that extra protection against identity theft.

Copyright PrimeNewswire 2012