With many individuals struggling to make ends meet these days, the fear of having one’s identity compromised looms even larger.

Whether it is someone running a small business or just a person working long hours in order to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table, becoming an identity theft victim can alter their lives forever.

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According to a report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft ranked number one in 2014 as the biggest public complaint, making it the 15th straight year that I.D. theft held the top spot on the list of consumer grievances.

Given how big a problem identity theft has been and continues to be, what can you the consumer do to lessen the odds of becoming the next victim?

Practice Safe Financial Moves

For starters, it is crucial that consumers make sure they do not haphazardly give out personal data that can make the jobs of identity theft criminals so much easier.

This includes:

  • Monitoring personal financial information – Whether you use credit cards, debit cards (see more below), checks, or a number of other means to pay bills and purchase monthly products and services, knowing your financial data is crucial. You can do this through a variety of tools on the market such as www.lifelock.org and other personal financial and identity monitoring tools. Having identity theft protection watching over you and your finances can give you piece of mind and lower the chances you will become the next victim;
  • Credit and debit cards – It seems just about everyone has one or more credit cards, with debit cards gaining in popularity in recent years. Consumers need to be sure that they do not misplace their cards, loan them to others (including friends and co-workers), and avoid leaving a trail (see more below) of personal data information sitting around. It is also imperative that consumers know what protections they have and do not have when it comes to credit and debit cards;
  • Messy in-person footprints – It is not uncommon to see consumers leaving receipts with their credit card numbers/signatures behind at places of business or simply dumping them in the weekly trash at home. As a result, identity theft thieves have a treasure-trove of information at their fingertips, information that can lead to a nightmare for the consumer. Be sure that any credit card receipts you’ve signed are properly in the hands of the business owner. Also make the effort to properly shred any financial receipts before placing them in your home garbage. You might see a homeless person ravaging through your garbage and think nothing of it. What you likely do not know is that the homeless individual may have been given a few dollars by someone looking to steal your financial information you deposited in the garbage;
  • Messy computer footprints – Just as leaving receipts and other paperwork with your financial details sitting around for others to see is bad, so too is leaving a computer trail. As many businesses have discovered in recent years, identity theft is a major source of financial losses. Not only do such attacks hurt the consumer, but the business is also damaged financially and from a public relations standpoint when it comes to consumer confidence. Make sure your computer has security system software installed to thwart hackers looking for personal data. Meantime, if you get a suspicious email (even from those you know) asking you to download an attachment that just doesn’t seem right, don’t do it. The same awareness holds true when you’re out in public (libraries are a good example) using a computer. Don’t have credit card info, your Social Security number or other such sensitive data on the screen, then get up for a minute and walk away. While it sounds like a lot of protective steps to remember, having the peace of mind knowing your personal data is safe is well worth the time and effort.

Having control of your life, be it business or personal, is more important than ever given the dangers of identity theft.

When you take prudent measures to protect you identity and notably your finances, you more than likely will keep identity theft thieves an arm’s length away.