5 Reasons an Identity Thief Might See You as a Patsy

At least make it hard for a criminal to notice you’re an easy mark.

College students can be particularly vulnerable to identity theft, both on and offline.
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[Read: 7 Tips for Creating a Secure Online Password.]

According to Gabberty, passwords should also not contain such things as friends' names, your date of birth, or your favorite sports team. "The more random [it is], the less likely you are to get hacked," he says.

Failing to fully educate your kids about viruses. Weisman says whereas con artists target adults with porn sites, others try to dupe kids on websites that offer free music or computer games.

Christopher Boyd, senior threat researcher at GFI Software, a company based in Clearwater, Fla., that develops Web, email, and computer-network security software, says many cyber criminals send fraudulent links and videogame "powers" to unsuspecting kids and gamers—teens who, say, want to beef up their character on World of Warcraft. "They see an offer to make their guy more powerful, they click on it, and a password stealer gets installed on their machine," Boyd says.

Moreover, YouTube—another favorite haunt for kids—is a bastion of malware, says Gabberty. He says kids who watch videos on the site should browse as limited users and not as administrators, which means you might want to check the user account your child is using to see how they're set up.

It can be tricky to teach children the nuances of the Internet, and how to tell if a website looks dangerous (especially when adults have trouble figuring that out themselves). Nevertheless, it's important to raise skeptical Internet users. "Remember, kids," Boyd warns, "they're all out to get you."

Assuming you're safe. In addition to catching errors on their credit report, many people today discover their personal information has been compromised when they learn a warrant has been issued for their arrest, says Ben Luftman, a criminal defense attorney in Columbus, Ohio. "Oftentimes when someone's identity is stolen, the person who stole the victim's identity is using their identification during traffic stops, and tickets can be issued in the name of the victim," Luftman explains.

[See 10 Warning Signs of Identity Theft.]

To err on the side of caution, look for signs of possible identity theft every three months, recommends Gary Raphael, a senior vice president in risk consulting at ACE Private Risk Services, which offers insurance for high-net-worth individuals and businesses. He also says if you're robbed, don't just assume that because your big screen TV is gone, your problems end there. "A thief may be after personal information as much as property," Raphael says.

Even cyber criminals themselves aren't immune to identity theft. Boyd says some phishers become victims when malware writers go after them and lift the passwords they've stolen.

Not remaining vigilant has always made people vulnerable to crooks. For instance, you might think you don't need to take many safeguards with your computer because you're protected with anti-virus software. Weisman throws cold water on that idea, pointing out that cyber criminals are actively working on viruses and malware designed to get around a consumer's computer protection. Says Weisman: "The bad guys are often ahead of the good guys."