Just last week, one of my friends had his identity stolen when he lost his credit card. All of a sudden, he had charges to his card rolling in from Chicago.

Identity theft and credit card fraud, however, can be much more complicated than just losing your wallet. If your personal information becomes compromised, it can lead to thousands of dollars in extravagant charges on your credit card, which can ruin your credit score.

Here are five ways to avoid having your identity and/or credit card stolen:

1. Physically secure all valuables in a car
It seems like common sense, but like they say, common sense isn’t so common. Earlier this year, the Riley County Police Department reported a spike in car thefts in Manhattan, especially during the winter months. However, just because it isn’t snowing outside does not mean people should abandon caution.

Leaving things like cell phones, wallets, money or other valuable in plain sight in a car can lead to your identity being compromised.

If you are traveling, make sure you know where your important documents and cards are at all times. Being reckless or aloof can lead to losing things, and sometimes it’s too late to retrace your steps.

2. Divulge sensitive information on a need-to-know basis
Being flippant with information such as account passwords, personal identification numbers and your social security number can cause serious issues. Not everyone needs to have access to personal information.

The most common mistake when it comes to divulging sensitive information seems to happen to people in relationships. Girlfriend gives boyfriend password to bank accounts or other online shopping accounts when they are dating. Girlfriend breaks up with boyfriend later on, but doesn’t think to change account passwords; boyfriend now has the ability to clean out accounts.

Keep sensitive information secure; you never know who can use that information against you.

3. Avoid using public computers to access the Internet
How many times do you see people at Hale Library doing online banking? If you haven’t noticed it, look for it the next time you go to the library; it’s incredible how many people don’t even think about it.

The fact is, however, that those computers get used by hundreds of people every day, making online identity theft much more likely. According to a report compiled by research firm Javelin Strategy and Research, nearly 12 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2011.

Using only personal, secure devices is just another safeguard against having your information compromised. If you cannot avoid using a public computer, make sure you log out when you’re done.

4. Lock all mobile devices and tablets
Generally, most laptops and personal computers are password-protected by default. Many people, however, don’t think to lock their phones or tablets, although it is a common feature in most mobile devices today.

Mobile devices now allow users to monitor and transfer money between bank accounts, quickly and easily shop online and gain access to other secure information that once was only accessible through personal computers.

According to the same research done by Javelin Strategy and Research, identity thieves often target frequent users of mobile devices and social media because they tend to be less cautious.

The Javelin report also reported 7 percent of smartphone users fell victim to identity fraud in 2011.

Protect yourself; it might be easier not to have to enter a password every time you want to surf the Web on your iPad or send a text on your phone, but at least you know that your secure information won’t be compromised.

5. Change passwords to accounts intermittently
K-State students are all familiar with the K-State Office of Information Security and Compliance’s password change requirements for their eIDs.

Although many students react to this mandate with disgruntled sighs and slight annoyance, the university has the right idea.

An identity thief’s best friend is stagnancy; after all, a target is easier to hit when it isn’t moving.

Changing your passwords can help you stay protected. No matter how annoying it can be, having sensitive information stolen can be far more of a pain to deal with than switching up passwords.

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