Security breaches seem to have become part of daily living. With the recent Equifax hack and a long string of others to large reputable organizations, how do consumers keep their personal information safe? Apple Federal Credit Union ( offers important warning signs to help consumers understand if they are susceptible to becoming the victim in the next hack.

“Consumers need to be aware of how they contribute to their own insecurity when it comes to identity theft,” warns Larry Larsen, director of Cyber Security at Apple Federal Credit Union. “Many people are unaware that they are engaging in risky behaviors, and that they are putting themselves at greater risk to be victimized.”

Although the security experts are getting better at identifying this kind of theft, criminals are getting better at coming up with new ways to hack. According to the 2017 Identity Fraud Study, released by Javelin Strategy & Research, $16 billion was stolen from 15.4 million US consumers in 2016, up from $15.3 billion and 13.1 million victims in the prior year. Over the past six years, identity thieves have stolen over $107 billion.

In addition, in 2016, 13% of all complaints filed with the Federal Trade Commission were related to identity theft. High on the list are government documents and benefits fraud (49.2%), credit card fraud (15.8%) and bank fraud (5.9%). Locally, Maryland had the highest number of identity theft complaints with 11,006; Virginia had 10,329, and Washington, DC had 1,533.

To protect personal information, Apple offers these warning signs to help consumers recognize their risk of identity theft:

° Shopping online over a public Wi-Fi connection. Although public Wi-Fi in the airport or coffee shop is convenient, it gives thieves an opportunity to intercept your connection and steal your personal information. Don’t use them for things like shopping or checking your bank account.

° Allowing others to use online and mobile device account names and passwords. NEVER share login information for your personal accounts or for your mobile device with others. That information is what keeps your account secure. Sharing that information immediately compromises your safety. Create passwords and PINs that are difficult for thieves to guess or readily associate with you, such as your birthday or mother’s maiden name. Instead, create something unique. With your mobile phone, include a fingerprint identification if possible.

° Sharing payment card numbers and/or PINS. This seems like an obvious tip, but it is surprising how many family members and friends give each other their cards without a second thought. It is very generous and a sure sign of shared trust, but the problem is that you now have no idea where that card and PIN may end up. Children especially may not know what is a risky purchase and what is not.

° Failing to enroll in credit monitoring or identity theft protection services. Talk to your financial institution or credit card company about setting alerts that trigger if transactions exceed pre-set limits. Payment card-control mobile apps like CardValet are great to help keep your cards safe from fraud purchases. Find out what your financial institution or credit card companies are doing to keep you safe and what you can do to support that effort.

° Leaving it up to your bank or credit card companies to catch signs of fraud. Check your statements often (at least two or three times a month) to ensure there are no questionable transactions. Even if you receive these statements by mail, register to view your accounts online. Know when the paper statements should arrive each month, and contact your bank or credit card company immediately if you do not receive them by that date. You should consider getting your statements delivered electronically, eliminating the risk of bad guys grabbing your statements out of your mailbox.

° Throwing your bank statements, credit card statements and offers into the trash. Always use a shredder when you discard documents with your personal information on them. Thieves will go through your trash looking for that kind of waste so they can lift your personal information and use it. Most financial institutions and utility companies now offer paperless billing; sign up for that and save some trees while you eliminate that risk.