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It's easy to forget that privacy matters on the Internet.We live in a world where seemingly everything is public. We regularly post details about our private lives on social media for all to see. In fact, so much of our information is already online that it is generally fairly easy to find someone with a quick Google search.

There’s no sign that this trend is going to reverse itself any time soon. While today’s adults have some memory of a time before mountains of data became available on the Internet, the next generation will have no frame of reference. To them, the notion of having their lives completely open to the public could seem perfectly normal.

It’s easy to forget that privacy matters.

Sure, most of us don’t see the harm in exposing our lives to the world. What do we have to hide, anyway? It’s easy to fall into the mindset that as long as we aren’t doing anything wrong or illegal, we have nothing to fear from a lack of privacy.

But the steady rise of identity theft should disabuse everyone of that notion. You may not be doing anything wrong on the Internet, but there are many thieves out there who are looking for an easy mark.

Understanding the risk of identity theft

The Bureau of Justice Statistics estimates that more than 17 million Americans were the victims of identity theft in 2014. This number has been on the rise for years – between 2005 and 2010, there was a 33 percent increase in the number of identity theft cases.

For most thieves, the goal of identity theft is to steal access to a victim’s financial accounts and make as many unauthorized purchases as possible before being discovered. Sometimes, simple credit card theft only costs a few hundred dollars, and can be remedied fairly quickly through a meeting with the card issuer. However, more extreme cases of identity theft have been known to completely ruin credit, leaving the victim to spend years cleaning up the damage – all without having access to basic financial services, such as loans.

For instance, in 1999 a former help desk worker at a software firm named Phillp Cummings used his position to help several accomplices steal credit reports belonging to 33,000 people – making off with between $50 and $100 million in the process. The criminals did immense damage to their victims’ credit scores, but were not caught by authorities for several years.

How to improve your privacy

Take a moment and think about how much of your personal information is already posted publicly for all to see. Your name and address are almost certainly easy to find for all those willing to put in a little bit of time. They can probably locate your email as well, which means that the only thing keeping them out of your many online accounts is a single email password.

No one wants to think about ID theft happening to them. But those who do not take a hard look at their own data privacy run a higher risk. Make a commitment to remove personal information from where it can easily be seen by prying eyes. Revisit the privacy settings on your social media pages and limit who can view your posts. Strengthen your passwords so others won’t have an easy time accessing your accounts.

In addition to basic precautions, you should also consider other tools that can help. An identity theft protection like Identity Guard can monitor your credit file, Social Security Numbers and public records, and alert you to certain activity that may be indicative of fraud.