your identityVampires, ghosts and goblins are the stuff of nightmares, but the real frights aren’t the things that go bump in the night. Among the most terrifying things in life are identity thieves, who are poised and ready to steal your information and wreak havoc on your finances. The damage that can be done to a person’s life by identity theft is overwhelming. How can you make yourself less of a target and avoid having this happen to you? We’ve compiled a list of tips to help you ensure you don’t get any tricks this Halloween or any other time during the year.

The scary truth about identity theft

Identity theft is a rising crime in America, affecting more and more people each year. A recent influx of hacker attacks targeting popular retailers and financial institutions across the country has had a hand in this. The FBI recently estimated that 80% of American adults had their data exposed in some way through a data breach in the past year. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, identity theft rose by 33% between 2005 and 2010 and a staggering 16.6 million U.S. citizens were victims of identity theft in 2012. Keeping these statistics in mind, it is more likely than not that you will face some sort of identity theft in your lifetime.

How can you keep your identity safe?

Don’t hide under the covers from identity thieves! Instead, follow these tips to help keep yourself from becoming someone’s next victim.

1. Keep the gory details off of social media. It’s tempting to post every little thing on Facebook or Twitter, but identity thieves often start here. The more you reveal about yourself online, the easier it will be for a criminal to impersonate you and get access to your identity. Be strict about who you add as a friend on social networks, limiting to family and friends. Have fun with your Twitter and Instagram feeds, but think carefully about how much you are sharing and what it might tell strangers about your life. Remember, most social networks offer privacy settings that let you control who sees what information. Use them!

2. Don’t let anyone get their claws on your social security number. Your social security number is the most dangerous piece of information an identity thief can know. Having access to this number gives them the power to open accounts and take out loans or mortgages in your name, impersonate you to your bank and other financial institutions and so much more. Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet. Instead, keep your it in a secure location, such as a personal safe, and don’t give the number out freely when asked.

3. Stay on top of your accounts. Most credit cards and banks offer online services to their customers. Take advantage of this so you can monitor your accounts on a regular basis. Even if you don’t check them every day, a careful look through your statements once per week will make it more likely for you to spot something spooky. If someone steals your credit card information, the sooner you can catch them before they go on a shopping spree, the better. In the case of credit card breaches, where large amounts of data are sold online in “batches,” criminals will often test cards to see if they work by placing a small, innocuous charge. If you are in the habit of monitoring your statements on a regular basis, you will probably be able to spot this type of thing and get ahold of your credit card company or bank right away — stopping the criminal in his tracks.

4. Destroy the evidence — shred all your unwanted papers. Sadly, identity thieves are not above digging through your trash to find documents with your personal information to steal. Think about how often you receive pre-approved credit card offers or billing statements in the mail. Do you just throw them away? Even if you tear them up, a determined criminal can reassemble the papers to get what they want. In order to fully protect yourself, it’s a good investment to pick up a shredder for your home or office. You will want to look for a machine that cross cuts, which will ensure the document is totally destroyed and unable to be pieced back together. You can also dramatically reduce the amount of paper you have to throw out by switching to paperless billing when companies or services offer it.

5. Bring in the professionals with identity theft protection. Horror movie fans know that when you want to get rid of the things that go bump in the night for good, you need to bring in someone that knows what they’re doing. Identity theft protection services are like ghostbusters for your identity. These services monitor the black market and other criminal hotspots to ensure your personal information is not being sold, traded or used by criminals. Many services also monitor your credit reports and provide updated credit reports and scores so you can be aware of what’s going on at all times. Read our identity theft protection reviews to learn more about the top-rated services.

Evil never stays dead, but you can do your best to protect yourself when it comes to the horrors of identity theft by following these tips. Stay up to date on the latest news and learn more helpful hints by following our identity theft protection blog.