10 Tips for Avoiding Identity Theft


Create Good Passwords and PINs

If your password is “password” or “12345” or something equally simple, you really should change it ASAP. ©iStock/Thinkstock
If your password is “password” or “12345” or something equally simple, you really should change it ASAP. ©iStock/Thinkstock

The states with the highest reported identity theft crimes are California, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Texas and Washington -- but it doesn't matter where you live if you're not choosing and using good passwords on the Internet.

Strong passwords contain at least eight characters that are a mix of letters, numbers, and special characters. They aren't real words, like "password" or "monkey" (which are both commonly used, and, as you'd guess, commonly hacked). Try an alphanumeric acronym, with a few capital letters and special characters thrown in for a strong, very difficult to guess password. And although it's super convenient, don't use the same password for every website -- if you're reusing a password again and again, if one account is hacked, they're all in jeopardy.

And even if you use strong passwords, don't forget to change them every few months. And it should go without saying, but we'll say it: Don't leave your password on a piece of paper or stuck to your monitor for all eyes to see.

Online passwords aren't the only key combination that needs safekeeping. When it comes banking, specifically your PIN, don't use something common or obvious. What's obvious? 1234 is obvious. Repeating the same number -- 5555 -- is obvious. Your birthday (or a family member's birthday), the last four digits of your social security number, and your anniversary dates are obvious. Considering there are 10,000 possible combinations of four digit numbers it's a little (okay, a lot) disheartening to learn that the most common PINs are 1234, 1111, and 0000, respectively. (If you're curious about the least common PIN, it's 8068. Well, it was the least common before we all found out about it.) [source: Nick Berry]