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Job-seekers must beware online identity theft

(MoneyWatch) With most job applications now being completed online, not getting an interview for a particular job might be the least of a job-seeker's concerns. Using a digital job database also can lead to identity theft.

"Although the Internet has revolutionized job-hunting, making it a lot easier for job seekers to find openings, and for recruiters to find job-seekers, commonsense is required in order to protect yourself," says cyber-security expert Stephen Cobb of ESET, a security software company. Here are six ways to protect your personal details during your job search:

Don't reveal too much on your resume. Resumes should reveal a lot, but of professional information. "Social Security Number, driver's license number and date of birth should never appear on a resume," says Brian Lapidus, senior vice president with risk management firm Kroll Advisory Solutions. If a job application asks you for this data, note that you prefer to provide it during an interview.

Do your due diligence. Although an online job application is primarily about a company vetting you, you should also vet the company and career website before you apply. "Make sure you review the privacy policy and user terms and agreements before you post your resume on a website," Lapidus says. "When in doubt, check with online resources such as The World Privacy Forum's Consumer's Guide to Online Job Sites. That said, it's important to remember that no matter how credible the site or how well it safeguards the data it keeps, no one can guarantee what happens to your resume after it has been downloaded."

Know what a bogus ad looks like. Does a job sound too good to be true? For instance, does the pay seem outrageously high for the described position? Does it offer the salary in cash? Or is it missing a physical address, company name or contact person? These all may be red flags, Lapidus says (see "Do your due diligence," above.)

Keep your computer security strong. If you click "remind me later" when your computer asks you to update your anti-virus software, you could be exposing yourself to risk. "Before sharing information online, make sure the computer or other device you use is equipped with current and other security programs. In addition, use a secure network. The coffee shop's free WiFi isn't the best avenue for reaching a potential employer," Lapidus says.

Use a solid password. Carolyn Hughes, an executive with job site, says that a strong password -- which means one that includes letters and numbers -- is crucial to protecting your ID from criminal activity. Another great defense? Your instincts. "If you don't feel comfortable with a situation, trust your instincts and move on to other positions," she says.

Consider buying safety technology. There are several digital services that can help you prevent -- and recover from -- online identity theft. For example, ProtectMyID is a service that alerts you if your identity appears to be at risk, including daily credit monitoring and Internet scans for your Social Security Number and credit and debit card numbers. You might rest easier knowing that if your identity is stolen, you'll know sooner rather than later.  The $16 a month service also includes $1 million in insurance, which you can use for legal costs if your identity is stolen and you need to go to court.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons user Avatar

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