In 2015 alone, an estimated 13.1 million Americans were the victims of identity theft. Identity theft can be costly and time-consuming to fix, while also leaving you feeling violated. The best course of action where identity theft is concerned is to prevent it from happening in the first place by adequately protecting your identity. Here are six things to do right away to protect your personal information from identity thieves:

Shred Financial Documents

Never throw old bank statements or other financial documents in the trash, and avoid holding onto paper copies of financial items longer than you really need to. Instead, opt in for paperless statements whenever possible and get in the habit of shredding anything you want to get rid of. You can buy a small paper shredder for your home office, or participate in local “shred-a-thons” whenever they are offered.

Create More Challenging Passwords

If you use the same password for everything, and it contains easy to guess items like your birthday or your pet’s name, you are practically begging for your accounts to be hacked. Schedule reminders on your calendar to change your passwords every few months, and use strong combinations of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols.

Be Wary of Unsolicited Phone Calls

If someone claiming to be from the IRS, a debt collector, your credit card company, or bank calls and begins asking for personal information or a payment over the phone, be very skeptical. This is a tactic used by many identity thieves to intimidate and trick you into giving out information. Ask them for identifying information, calmly refuse to give out any personal data, and ask if you can call them back. This gives you a chance to call the bank, IRS, etc. directly and vet that the person who called you was really who they said they were.

Sign Up for Credit Monitoring

Credit monitoring services are great because they will let you know the second something suspicious pops up on your credit report. If someone opens an account in your name or there is other suspicious activity you will learn about it in real time.

Be Very Cautious with Social Security Cards

Your social security number is a very valuable item. Without it, criminals will have a nearly impossible time opening up credit cards and other accounts in your name. Never carry your social security card in your wallet, instead keeping it safely hidden away in a file cabinet or -even better- a safe.

Install Up-to-Date Antivirus Software

To avoid identity thieves and hackers who install malicious malware on your computer, it’s important to always have active and up-to-date antivirus loaded on your computer. This guide to the best antivirus software of 2016 is a great place to start.

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