All the Ways You Invite an Identity Thief Into Your Online Life

You've heard all the warnings: Don't use your children's birthdates or names as you develop new passwords. Bank at a cybercafe. Stay logged into your favorite buying sites--after all, it's so much easier than having to dig out THAT password and log in, then hope you got it right! Post all of your personal information (well, almost all) on social media.

Use Your Personal Information Online, Every Day
"I know they've said not to post my birthdate, but this site seems so well-protected. Ahhh, what the heck?" "Will it REALLY hurt if I put my address here? After all, I want customers to find me." "It's just stupid that people can't show their pride in their families. Not posting their names or birthdates? Come on! What if absent-minded relatives forget that Jesse's birthday is in nine months?"

So, you go on and splash everything that describes and identifies your family. You may as well prop your front door open 24/7. Determined identity thieves will find your information.

Don't Log Out of Online Banking or Purchases
After buying that cute pair of shoes you just couldn't pass up, you decide to leave your account open. You don't sign out after paying for your purchase with your credit card. Or you stay logged into your online bank account. There's that open door again.

You haven't bothered to warn your high school- or college-aged children to log out of their own accounts. They leave their personal information out in the open for a determined identity thief to find.

You've also decided to use one password for multiple accounts. Shopping, social media, online banking or bill pay. After all, it's just too hard to remember all those passwords!

Let Thieves Know Everything About You
When you created your Facebook or Twitter accounts, you took the time to fill out everything. You're so proud! Now, everyone you're connected with knows that your birthday is on __/__/__. They know your middle initial is J. They know what high school you went to. You're so proud of reminding people you went to Brown University, so it's right up there!

You even included your home address and phone number when you filled out your profile pages. Again, this is just like opening your front door. Or putting your medical and banking information on large sheets of paper you hung from your bedroom windows.

Use Your Kids' Names in Your Passwords
You love your children to the moon and back. We know you do, your family knows you do--heck, even your kids know! Is it a surprise that your passwords combine their names and birthdates in them? Hey, it's a strong password! It combines letters and numbers! So, what's the big issue?

Hmmm. Let's confuse the issue even more. You used your children's social security numbers, or small bits of them, as your passwords. Thieves won't figure them out.

The Inevitable Happens
You start getting mystery credit card bills. Only you never applied for those cards. Or, you may be turned down for a car loan when you know you have a high credit score.

Surprise! Someone hacked into your accounts online and stole your information. By using your name, address, phone number or date of birth, they created whole new identities for themselves and now, they are taking out credit cards and running up bills faster than you can call the credit card companies to say they aren't yours.

Now, you have to take considerable time, contacting every creditor, as well as the credit card companies, to report that you've been a victim of online identity theft.

How to Keep This from Happening
Lock everything down. EVERYTHING. This means bank sites, shopping sites, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, Google+, YouTube. . . all of it. You need to change every single password to every single online account you have.

You're going to make a paper record of all those passwords. Make it easier on yourself: Create a document on your computer and save it to a folder that you name with a deceptive name. Dream up a name for the folder, such as "Grocery lists," "Honey-do lists," "Kid's Homework." Something. Tuck that document in the folder on your computer so you can reference it every time you need to remember a password. If you're afraid you're going to have a hard time remembering the name of that desktop folder, stick a piece of paper in your desk drawer with that name so you remember.

Next, impress on all of your children just why it's so important to have separate passwords for everything and to log out of websites that contain their personal information. Finally, you may be tempted to share your passwords with them. One word: Don't.

Those Pesky Privacy Settings
Log into every social media account you have. Change every single password. Write them down so you won't forget and be locked out. When you finish tweeting, posting status updates or posting photos, LOG OUT!

"Phishing" Emails
These are simply fake emails that look like they really came from your bank or credit card company. PayPal users get phishing emails all the time.

Rather than using your name, these emails refer to you as "customer," then they request your personal information to resolve an issue.

Don't give them that information! They are literally "fishing" for your information so they can steal from your accounts or steal your identity.

Strong Passwords
Starting today, you're no longer going to use your children's names, spouse's name or any of their dates of birth in creating your passwords. It's just a bad practice all around.

Yes, the strongest passwords contain a combination of symbols (%!*$#*), numbers and upper-case and lower-case letters. Pick random letters, numbers and symbols and make note of which password goes to which account.

Another way of creating a strong account, using all these parameters, is to do this:

º For Amazon, choose three letters from the site name. Next choose one or two symbols. Finally, choose three or four numbers. Here's an example: **%$2001znA. It has it all. Symbols, upper-and lower-case letters and numbers. Or, if you don't want to use symbols, choose a common word that has significance only to you: reading, music, cats, football. Use that word in creating your new passwords.

º For your bank or credit union, choose three or four letters from the institution's name, three or four numbers and a few symbols or a word with personal significance to you. (Just don't use family members' names.) As with the Amazon example, create a strong password. Do the same for every one of your personal, shopping and social media accounts. And use them!