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Keep Your Information Private

Learn how to be safer online

Sharing personal information with friends and family enriches your relationships and helps you build new ones. The key is to avoid sharing information with the wrong people and shady companies because, just as in the real world, exposing your personal information online is one of your biggest risks.

Criminals come in all flavors, but the more savvy ones collect information in a systematic way. Each piece of information is like another drop of water that, over time, collects to form a very clear picture of your life. And after criminals collect and organize the information, they never throw it away because they may be able to use it many times over.

Fortunately, information exposure is a risk you have a great deal of control over. Before sharing information such as your date of birth, make sure that you're comfortable with how the recipient will use the information.

Paranoia, man with computer

— Stephen Morris/Vetta/Getty Images

Address and phone number: Abuse of this information results in you receiving increased telemarketing calls and junk mail. Although less common, this information may also increase a scammer's ability to steal your identity and make your home a more interesting target for break-ins.

Names of husband/wife, father and mother (including mother's maiden name), siblings, children and grandchildren: This information is very interesting to criminals, who can use it to gain your confidence and then scam you, or use it to guess your passwords or secret question answers, which often include family members' names. This information may also expose additional family members to ID theft, fraud and personal harm.

Information about your car: Limit access to license plate numbers; VINs (vehicle identification numbers); registration information; make, model and title number of car; your insurance carrier's name and coverage limits; loan information; and driver's license number. The key criminal abuse of this information includes car theft (or theft of parts of the car) and insurance fraud. The type of car you drive may also indicate your financial status, and that adds one more piece of information to the pool of data criminals collect about you.

Information about work history: In the hands of criminals, your work history can be very useful for "authenticating" the fraudster and convincing people and organizations to provide them with more of your financial records or identity.

Information about your credit status: This information can be abused in so many ways that any time you're asked to provide this online, your answer should be no. Don't fall for the temptation to check your credit scores for free through sites that aren't guaranteed reputable. Another frequent abuse of credit information is found in free mortgage calculators that ask you to put in all kinds of personal information in order for them to determine what credit you qualify for.

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