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Online Identity Theft: Security Experts Provide Tips On Protecting Yourself & Your Information

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Identity theft has been the fastest-growing crime in America for more than a decade.

Why is it still happening to so many people?

It could be our own fault.

It doesn't take much – just your Social Security number and your birthday – before thieves can buy a car or a home under your name. And forget dumpster diving. Identity theft criminals don't have to leave their couch to get what they need.

TV 10-55's John Elliott asked Aaron Titus from, the security software firm, to pinpoint the big trouble spots for identity theft.

He said social media sites are a big bulls-eye for hackers.

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"If it's on Facebook, it is public," he said. "I don't care what you're privacy settings say."

Another tip? Create different passwords for different online accounts.

"Password reuse is a huge problem," Titus said. "And let's face it, we all do it - because we're humans and we can't remember 50,000 passwords."

Most importantly, watch your Internet connection.

Hackers who sneak on to public Wi-Fi networks have a term for gathering your information. It's called "sniffing your packets" – sounds funny, but it means they can see everything you're doing across that Internet connection.

"Remember that everything that you do one of those public wireless networks without a password, it's as though you're doing it in public," Titus said.

It may be fun to sit at a Starbucks or on your couch at home and shop online with your Smartphone or iPad, but that free WI-Fi could come at a steep price.

"Make sure you're not surfing anything that is extremely sensitive, but also, make sure that wherever you go, it's encrypted. the way to do that is to look for the little 'https' in the address bar," Titus said. "

Be careful when you dump your outdated laptop. Selling it on eBay or donating it to charity sounds nice, but hand-me-down computers and hard drives are goldmines for identity thieves.

"It's as simple as plugging it in, and now I can see everything on that hard drive," Titus said. "And when you press 'delete,' it isn't actually deleted. You just tell the computer to forget where to put it, but it's all still there and can be recovered."

You should also use some sort of encryption software. Identity finder's software can either encrypt or permanently delete your family's personal info from your computers at home.

What are the first steps you need to take once hackers have gotten your information? John Lucich, President of the High Tech Crime Network, visited The Couch to make sure we know what to do to protect ourselves. For his tips, check out the video below.

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