Identify theft is an increasing problem for everybody in our progressively digitized world. Hackers are always finding new ways to break into systems to steal sensitive information that they can use to impersonate you online. Here are a number of ways that identity theft can negatively impact you and ways you can prevent it from happening.

It can hurt your credit rating
Often what identity thieves do is use a fake identity to buy things that they never actually pay for. That can leave a mark on your credit report, making it harder for you to get a loan or buy a home or a car. Or rather, it will make doing all of those things more expensive because you will be charged a higher interest rate for somebody else’s unpaid bills!

Trouble with the taxman
One of the most valuable pieces of information somebody can steal from you is your social security number. That can be sold to somebody who does not have legal status to work in the country or who otherwise wants to hide their identity from their employer. Of course, if that person doesn’t pay taxes, you might find the IRS breathing down your neck to explain this other mysterious source of income that you knew nothing about.

End up with a criminal record
Those who are involved in crime may use a fake identity when they are arrested. When they’re released, they can change their identity and avoid having the criminal record follow them. However, if it’s your name and social security number that the police have on file, it appears that it’s you who committed the crime. It can take a lot of effort to get that mistake corrected, and perhaps not before your career has suffered as a result.

Lots and lots of wasted time
When you’re a REALTOR®, time is money. You spend your days responding to clients and trying to hunt down new ones. But that naturally takes a backseat when you realize that your identity has been stolen. At that point your number one priority is to do whatever it takes to minimize the damage of the theft. All the time that takes (and it can vary considerably) will come at the expense of your business.

So, what can you do to prevent it?

Take passwords seriously
Stop being lazy about your passwords. Try to use different ones for different accounts and don’t make them predictable. Use a combination of letters, symbols and numbers. Try to avoid using information that could likely be gleaned about you online, such as your name, the names of family members or pets, your birthday, your favorite sports team etc.

Watch out for “phishing” emails and social media posts
One of the most common ways to hack somebody is to get them to click on a link that causes a virus. Hackers will use fake profiles to send you emails or private message on social media sites, such as Facebook or Twitter, inviting you to click on a link. Oftentimes the message will come from somebody you know who has already been hacked. So if your friend sends you a message telling you to click on a link, make sure they really sent it before you click on it.

Good anti-virus software
For PC owners, download some solid anti-virus software that will alert you to websites that are suspicious and notify you of potentially suspicious programs. Check out a respected computer resource to make an educated choice on the matter. Beware of scams marketing themselves as free anti-virus programs; many of them are just viruses themselves!

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