Privacy Tips to Keep Your Personal Information Safe

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You might not realize just how much personal information you give out every day.

Did you use your debit card to buy groceries this morning? Maybe you charged your lunch to your credit card this afternoon. Perhaps you reserved a hotel room online for a planned vacation?

In each instance, you provided someone you probably don't know with your personal information.

Identity theft is a serious problem in the United States. With the increase in online purchases, you become more vulnerable to online threats, which means learning how to protect your personal information is of the utmost importance.

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your personal information.

Credit card safety

The Privacy Rights Clearinghouse says that protecting your personal information starts with ordering the three free credit reports that you are entitled to every year. You can obtain a copy of your credit reports - one from each of the national credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax and Experian - by visiting You are entitled to order your three credit reports once every year at no charge from this site.

Once you receive these reports, check them carefully. Make sure that no one has opened credit card accounts or taken out loans in your name. Also, make sure that your reports don't list any late payments on accounts that you don't remember opening.

Thieves can gain access to your personal information by stealing all those unsolicited credit card or insurance offers that fill your mailbox each week. When you dispose of this junk mail, be sure to shred the papers before tossing them in the garbage or recycling. Identity thieves are not above digging through your garbage to unearth these offers, which they then use to apply for credit cards in your name.

Privacy and social media

The rise of such social networks as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest has created new challenges when it comes to protecting your personal information.

People tend to share too much information when posting on Facebook or Twitter. Information that's posted on social media can easily be used to gain phone numbers, addresses and even to see if you're home or not.

Before posting on social networking sites, study the privacy and security settings they offer. Many sites allow you to limit who sees your posts and profile information. There's no shame in limiting the number of people who can access your social networking posts. In fact, doing so may keep cyber criminals away from your personal information. writes that the more personal information you provide online - including information that can help others decipher where you live and where you work - the more at risk you are at becoming a victim of identity theft. As the site says, the more you post about yourself, the easier you are making life for a hacker who'd love to gain access to your personal data.

Dangerous smartphones

Smartphones create security problems as well. As the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse says, today's smartphones store a tremendous amount of personal information. What would happen if the wrong person accessed your lost or stolen phone?

A lost or stolen phone is why the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse recommends that you protect it with a passcode. On most mobile devices, passcodes can be created by going to its security settings and making one. Setting up your passcode can keep a criminal, or nosy people for that matter, from logging onto your phone and stealing the personal data on it.

You should make sure, too, that your phone does not automatically remember log in passwords for email, social media or financial accounts.

By being aware of your actions at all times, you can take steps to reduce your chances of becoming a victim.