07/24/2012 12:39 pm ET Updated Sep 23, 2012

Protecting Your Identity in a Digital World

Are we worrying about theft for all the wrong reasons?

Property theft can have it's share of devastating losses, but we usually focus on the physical objects we own, not our private and personal data that could potentially ruin a good portion of our lives, should it falls into the wrong hands. Identity theft is on the rise, and given our social media habits, it's only going to get worse.

There are two types of criminals who can engage in digital theft - burglars, who actually steal your physical property and use the stored data on said property, and those that target you to steal your identity. We are habitual over-sharers, and every hacker and identity thief knows that. Old-school burglars deliberately case our homes to figure out our routines, then rob us when they know the coast is clear. Cyber-thieves who want to steal our data simply look at our personal lives, figure out our online "habits," and use the information for personal gain.

Thieves and hackers alike target us using the personal information we so willingly share. We check-in to our errands and activities on FourSquare. We share personal details on blogs, post vacation plans, photos and more on Facebook. Our home addresses can be looked up online and checked out using Google Maps. We share interests publicly, so pretty much anyone can find out intimate personal details about us, our families, and our valuables from anywhere in the world.

It is these habits that make us very vulnerable to identity theft. We use the same password (or have a few versions of that password), and choose a word related to a birthday, address, pet, or an interest. We rarely change passwords on all of our accounts unless we are forced to do so.

According Twitter, we send 1 billion tweets per week. YouTube's stats page says that we upload 72 hours of video every minute, and the unofficial Facebook blog says that we post 250 million photos every day. In April, Foursquare announced that they have surpassed 2 billion check-ins. When you look at numbers like that, you realize that the amount of private data we make public is astounding.

With the recent case of hackers stealing and posting of 450,000 Yahoo addresses and passwords last week, we all need to be on alert. Last month, 6.4 million LinkedIn passwords were published, and the next day 1.5 million eHarmony passwords were stolen. Last year, the same thing happened to Sony and Zappos. You may think that the passwords for online dating sites and shoe stores are not important, but when you consider that most of us use the same password for our banks, shopping, email and social media accounts, you can see why it is scary to see how easily that data can be hacked.

Here is where online and offline thefts intersect: your smartphone, laptop, and tablets all containing stored personal information. Once stolen, a quick browser history scan or look at the social apps we use is telling of where we have registered accounts, and a means to watch us. We save our passwords on our devices and within browsers, which gives thieves instant access to our bank accounts, email, social media accounts, and every other aspect of our lives.

It's never easy to think about real-world or online theft, but there things we can do to mitigate the risk. We can make sure our homes are protected by alarm systems that use secure wireless technology, like the ones from wireless security companies. A good place to start is change your passwords, but more importantly, use different passwords for different apps or sites we use--set reminders to change them often. Implement a few personal guidelines for "social security", and share less of our whereabouts on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs.

While social media gives you a sense of security with a quick and forgettable format for communicating, the rise in identity theft shows us that we need to pick up some common sense and apply it to our online behavior.