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Protect your identity as you would other valuables

People go to great lengths to secure their valuables, whether it’s homes, jewelry, cars or other collectibles. We’ve all seen the ads on late-night television or online pitching products such as steering wheel locking devices for cars, home security systems and even safe rooms, in the event of a burglary or home intrusion.

There is good reason for the concern to protect your assets. You’ve worked hard to obtain them and will do everything reasonable to shelter them from harm. As has been true throughout time, as advances are made in securing and protecting our valuables, there’s someone working just as diligently to gain access to your hard-earned assets. Your identity is no different.

After a decline in identity fraud incidence from 2009 to 2010, 2011 saw an increase of 12.6 percent, resulting in 11.6 million identity theft victims, according to a recent Javelin Strategy & Research Identity Fraud Survey. That’s almost 5 percent of the U.S. adult population.

The most unnerving part is that identity theft often goes unnoticed until real damage has been done, making the recovery a long, aggravating journey. Most victims have no idea how they were compromised, assuming they lost a wallet or card. The reality is that identity thieves can glean important personal information about you from social networking sites as seemingly harmless as Facebook, where people openly post birthdays, home addresses, email addresses and phone numbers. The survey also found there is often a higher rate of fraud among social media users when compared to nonusers, which comes as no surprise.

“Identity thieves utilize social networking sites as an extremely valuable source to gather personal information,” says Joe Fico, president and CEO of TD Insurance. “People need to be as vigilant about safeguarding their online activity as they tend to be regarding offline activity, such as not listing your telephone number on checks or shredding financial statements.”

The good news is that there are more ways than ever to monitor your identity and help protect yourself from fraud or theft. TD Insurance offers one such tool, ITAC Sentinel Plus Identity Theft Protection, which features layers of security along with regular monitoring of your credit file at all three credit bureaus. It even provides up to $20,000 of identity theft insurance at no additional cost outside of enrollment which costs $12.99 per month.

If you prefer to tackle the task of protecting your identity on your own, here are some general tips to keep in mind:

* Change passwords every 30 days and don’t use identifiable personal data such as birthdays, Social Security numbers or phone numbers.

* Ensure that websites are encrypted (usually beginning with “https”) before submitting important personal and financial data.

* Review bank, credit card and other financial statements when they arrive.

* Obtain a free credit report annually from the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, reviewing them for any fraudulent activity.

* Update spyware and antivirus software on all of your computers.

* Limit the information you share about yourself on social networking websites.

If you do suspect fraudulent activity, alert the three major credit bureaus right away. Doing so will let them place a fraud alert on your credit reports to ensure that no more fraudulent activities take place. Then, close the accounts that you think have been jeopardized. File a police report and contact the Federal Trade Commission immediately to file a complaint, so they can record the fraudulent activity and work with other agencies to track down thieves.

You take great lengths to protect your home and other valuables. Be just as vigilant about protecting your identity.

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