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Identity theft on the rise: How to fight back

It’s a serious crime that’s getting worse. Identity thieves are stealing people’s lives for their personal gain. Victims can suffer more than a hit to their wallet. They can have their credit score plunge with all sorts of devastating consequences.

During a TODAY Money web chat on Wednesday, Adam Levin, CEO and co-founder of Identity Theft 911 answered a variety of questions on this subject. We started with why things keep getting worse.

Adam Levin: ID theft is increasing because people over-share information on social networking sites, don’t encrypt their computers and smartphones, provide information to people they don’t know, are on databases that have been improperly accessed because government or corporate databases are not properly secured or employees click on the wrong attachment sent in a phishing email and release malware into their computers which permits unauthorized access to a hacker.

Clearly, there’s nothing that can guarantee that someone won’t be the victim of identity theft, but there are things we can all do to improve the odds. Can you share a few tips with us?

Adam Levin: It is not preventable. There is simply too much information out there through consumer over-sharing, human error, breaches at all levels of government and business security lapses. So you need to look at the issue in three ways: 

1. Minimize your risk of exposure: Don't carry Social Security cards, don't carry your entire inventory of credit and debit cards, don't give information to people who call you - always return their call to the official number on the back of a credit or debit card, secure your computer and smartphone with the most advanced security software, shred everything in sight, never click on links that look unfamiliar, never click on pictures, never respond to charities that you don't check out

2. Engage in a culture of monitoring: Go to annualcreditreport.com, go to trusted sites where you can monitor your credit or scores free, check your bank and credit accounts daily, enroll in programs where your bank, credit union or credit card company alerts you to transactions in your accounts, enroll in credit and fraud monitoring programs if you like the price, and consider a credit freeze

3. Have a damage control program: Check with your insurance company, bank, credit union or employer if they have a program to help you through the problem. It might be free or available at minimal cost. Ask if you are enrolled, what is the cost and how you can get in.

Read the rest of the Q & A below: