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In an age where we can complete nearly any transaction online while sharing confidential information at the speed of Wi-Fi, the risk of personal information being exposed to others rises dramatically. This means data theft can easily morph into identity theft. The key to keeping your identity safe lies in knowing where the threats lurk and taking the necessary steps to protect personally identifiable information (PII). —This includes everything from home, business and email addresses to birth dates and financial account numbers. To shed more light on the risks and how best to navigate through them, we checked in with identity theft expert Eva Casey Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC). Here’s what she had to say: EZShield: What do you see as the top threats consumers face when it comes to identity theft? Velasquez: Mobile hacking and malware are becoming more and more prevalent. The 2012 Javelin Identity Fraud Report found that smartphone owners are 35 percent more likely to experience fraud compared to the average consumer. The combination of a phone’s mobility, owners using them at public Wi-Fi hotspots, and the ease of using a mobile phone to make online purchases makes them a hot target for identity thieves. Additionally, medical identity theft victims increased from 1.49 to 1.85 million from 2011 to 2012, costing approximately $41 billion, according to Ponemon Institute’s Third Annual Survey on Medical Identity Theft. Medical identity theft will continue to be a significant problem in 2013. Update 07/2015: The 2015 Ponemon Institute study reports that there were 2.3 million victims of medical identity theft in 2014. On average, victims spend 200 hours and $13,450 in out-of-pocket expenses resolving medical identity theft. EZShield: Are there any unexpected risks that consumers don’t often consider? Velasquez: Using public Wi-Fi is tempting for many people who want to have faster Internet connections away from home. Many people don’t realize, though, that public Wi-Fi can be easily hacked into and some public Wi-Fi hotspots are actually set up by data thieves so they can monitor your online activity. Phishing, and now sms-ishing (the text message equivalent of phishing) scams are becoming more sophisticated as identity thieves are getting better at imitating banks and other businesses in order to trick consumers into divulging PII. EZShield: How can individuals bolster the security of their PII? Velasquez: Encrypt computers and mobile devices using basic encryption software, and always maintain up-to-date antivirus software. Also, use a virtual private network (VPN) to protect Internet activity when surfing the Web away from home. Use a cross-cut shredder to destroy any documents with PII, such as tax preparation papers, medical records, loan applications, bank statements and credit card offers. We recommend storing sensitive documents in a safe or, if they are digital copies, transfer them to an encrypted thumb drive and then delete the files from your computer. Sensitive documents include anything listed above for shredding that can’t be destroyed including Social Security cards, Medicare cards and power of attorney documentation. We realize that this might be a lot to digest, so please know that we are here, along with the ITRC, to answer any questions you may have about preventing, detecting or remedying identity theft. On that note, we will leave you with this parting question: Are you truly taking the necessary precautions?