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The digital age in which we live has given rise to a seemingly endless series of improvements in convenience and connectivity; who would have thought, years ago, that we’d do as much shopping, chatting, and just plain living as we do online today? It is a symptom of our technology-obsessed culture, however, that just as so much of our basic activities have moved online, so have our crimes and dangers. One of the most prevalent form that these “cybercrimes” take is identity theft.

Because identity theft is such a wide-open concept (and because the theft of your personal information can lead to so many criminal activities), it can really constitute a lot of different crimes–but typically, it is a case of fraud, in which an identity thief uses another unsuspecting person’s personal information–credit card, social security number, even just their name–to steal, and sticks the victim with the bill. As our online activity rates rise, so does the rate of identity theft; but make no mistake, it remains a threat in “the real world” as well.

As we mentioned, identity theft can result in so many criminal activities–credit card fraud, counterfeiting of checks or applications for government benefits, even renting a house–it is difficult to be targeted as one single threat. In fact, the best way to deal with identity theft remains the simplest: avoid it from happening in the first place.

But avoiding identity theft is sometimes easier said than done, and thieves are always developing new ways to steal personal information. There are tips, however, that we’d all do well to follow in protecting our identities online. These include making our passwords difficult to guess (i.e., avoiding proper names, significant dates or even words), being careful not to use the same password for multiple accounts (thereby limiting the damage possible if one account does happen to be compromised), and, in “the real world,” being sure that you’re shredding bills and credit statements before throwing them away.

But what do we do if, despite our best efforts, we fall victim to identity theft? It’s probably happened to someone you know, and, luckily, because of its prevalence there are many ways in which it can be dealt with. First, be sure to close and delete any account that you believe is “compromised”; you can always create a new one. Also, be sure to deal with a credit bureau directly to place a “fraud alert” on the affected account. Lastly, file a complaint with the FTC and with the police. Thankfully, many credit card companies now offer fraud protection services that monitor our accounts for suspicious activity and alert us if something appears to be out of order. This way, we can get a jump on clearing our name and maintaining a healthy means of interacting as consumers and as online citizens.