Most background screening companies are committed to operating at the highest standards to keep your Personally Identifiable Information (PII) protected. Click here for a list of the most proactive firms (these are the ones like Active Screening who have taken a pledge to never off shore your PII).

Anyone, however, can fall victim to privacy invasions (at best) and identity theft (at worst?) and it has nothing to do with background checks or the agencies who conduct them.

Identity theft is still a massive industry – yes, industry! – in the United States. Giant networks of criminals conduct huge identity theft rings and, unfortunately, are wildly successful at it.

A report released by the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BSJ) shows that an estimated 17.6 million people in the U.S. were victims of at least one incident of identity theft in 2014. That breaks down to about 7 percent of us!

The report shows the majority of victims (86%) experienced the fraudulent use of existing account information, such as credit card or bank account information.

The report found that identity theft victims may have experienced multiple types of identity theft:

• 8.6 million identity theft victims experienced the fraudulent use of a credit card.

• 8.1 million identity theft victims experienced the unauthorized or attempted use of existing bank accounts such as checking or savings accounts.

• 1.5 million identity theft victims experienced other types of existing account theft such as misuse or attempted misuse of an existing telephone, online, or insurance account.

You can count me as one of those victims. Shortly after moving to Florida (an identity theft hotbed), my credit information was stolen and used to make several online purchases. I’m not sure how my credit parent company tracked the fraudulent activity, but they alerted me and with some teamwork, we eliminated the threat and re-issued all new credit cards within 24 hours. Luckily, the thieves didn’t get away with much, but I still keep a closer eye on all my credit information in case they stole other information, too, and try to use it again.

Protecting your online presence is one of the smartest moves you can make to prevent yourself from becoming an identity theft victim, and suffering other unforeseen consequences. A bad credit report can greatly damage your chances for getting a new job, although some big names are working feverishly to stop this practice. Since it still happens, though, we thought we’d offer you some tried and true tips for protecting your online presence.

You are NOT invincible… or invisible. Every time you check Twitter with your smartphone, browse through Zulily while waiting to pick your daughter up from daycare, watch an episode of “The Player” On Demand on your iPad, or enter a new bill in your Bank of America auto pay feature, you’re leaving a digital footprint. Your information is getting out there whether you realize it or not which makes you and millions of other casual internet users prime targets for identity thieves.

Shield Your Browsing History. If it weirds you out to suddenly realize that ad for a pet sitting service on your Facebook page wasn’t so random after all (you did post a status update last week about looking forward to your trip to Puerto Rico in November, didn’t you?), then it’s time you knew about data brokers. These information hounds are hoarding your online moves and selling that information to anyone who wants it – namely marketers, advertisers and yes, screening companies. Robert Siciliano, a security speaker and expert on virtual privacy, recommends browsing “incognito” on his blog. Here’s his advice, direct from a post titled Data Brokers: What They Are; How to Get Control of Your Name

“Browse “Incognito”: with Googles Chrome browser you can open a “New Incognito Window” once opened, you’ve gone incognito. Pages you view in incognito tabs won’t stick around in your browser’s history, cookie store, or search history after you’ve closed all of your incognito tabs. Any files you download or bookmarks you create will be kept.

However, you aren’t invisible. Going incognito doesn’t hide your browsing from your employer, your internet service provider, or the websites you visit.”

Shred. In an increasingly paperless society, it’s easy to forget about eliminating a paper trail of private documents. Invest in a good shredder and keep it handy so you’ll use it. Anything that includes private information like medical receipts, or solicits for personal information like credit applications, and those fake cards and checks (ESPECIALLY those fake cards and checks!), should get annihilated.

Be Skeptical. Don’t give out your PII to anyone who asks for it in an email or on a website or over the phone. The BSJ report shows that people over the age of 65 and women are the most popular victims. Most reputable businesses don’t ask for this information in a cold call and they certainly shouldn’t demand it over email. If someone does, get on the phone and call customer service or a fraud detection line immediately. Also, look for web site certificates. Two methods of detecting if you’re on a secure site include a lock icon at the top (which is actually locked) or a webpage that begins with ‘https’ instead of ‘http.’

Unfortunately or fortunately, you have to be your own advocate when it comes to protecting your personal information online. We’d love to share some of your tips and tricks with our readers. Leave a comment below! Or, if you’re willing, share your story about how identity theft affected your background check report.

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