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Millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft every year. The effects can be widespread — hurting credit scores, homebuying potential and even job opportunities. Data shows that an identity theft occurs every three seconds and in 2012 identity fraud activity equaled more than $21 billion in losses. But there are some ways you can try to make yourself a less obvious target.

When shopping and banking online you have to be vigilant. Here are four tips to keep your online transactions secure.

1. Use the Right Card

Credit cards can offer more protection for consumers than debit cards. Read the fine print on credit card agreements to learn about the protections and limitations. Learn what each of your credit cards offer as fraud protection and liability protection. This way you can choose the best card for online purchases. It can be a good idea to use only one card for online transactions, to limit your exposure to fraud and theft.

2. Defend Those Digits

Then guard your credit card number (and all of your personal information) very carefully. For example, always log out of bank, credit card and merchant sites after you’ve completed a transaction. Do this even if you are using your home computer. Don’t allow your computer (or tablet or phone) to remember your usernames or passwords. This way, if anyone steals your computer, they won’t be able to steal even more.

It seems we need a username and password to do just about anything these days and it can be very tempting to use the same set for multiple sites. But it can be very dangerous to use the exact same username and password for all of your online accounts. Pick hard to guess passwords that use upper and lower case letters as well as numbers and symbols. Then change them up every few months.

3. Retain Records

If you are browsing the Web while watching TV or eating or otherwise engaged, it can be easy to make several purchases without paying much attention. But if you’re not keeping track, it’s hard to identify fraudulent purchases on your credit card statement later. Keep records of every transaction you make on the Internet so you can compare with credit card and bank statements every month. A simple screen shot, PDF or email receipt can help you spot identity theft early. Report discrepancies immediately.

It also may be a smart idea to monitor your credit. You can pay for a credit monitoring service or there are free tools like the Credit Report Card that let you monitor it for free. The Report Card will update two of your credit scores for free every month. Any unexpected, major changes in your score could signal identity theft and you should pull copies of your credit reports (you can get them for free once a year) to investigate.

4. Social Media Mayhem

Just because a social media profile has a place for you to enter information, doesn’t mean you should do it. Providing this information can compromise your other transactions — any information you post on the Internet can be hacked or stolen. While you may want people to compliment how young you look for your age, don’t be tempted to post your full birth date on networking sites like Facebook. If you still want all those wonderful “happy birthday” posts from people you barely remember, share just the month and day but leave out the year. Also, make sure you aren’t using your birth date for any passwords, because now that information is out there.

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