Have you ever thought about how much a person could find out about you based on what you carry in your wallet? Most people carry their wallets with their ID, health insurance information, credit cards, debit cards and sometimes even Social Security cards. All of these items could tell a potential identity thief a lot of personal information about you or even allow them to steal your identity.

So, how does identity theft occur? First, someone asks you about personal information and you tell them. The second way identity theft can occur, is by thieves making contact via phone or email and obtaining your personal information. Another way identity theft can occur is through cyber-attacks on your home computer or cell phone.

If you are approached by identity thieves, there are ten things that they will most likely want.

10. Where you were born;

9. Your mother’s maiden name;

8. Your banking PIN number;

7. Your passport number;

6. Your driver’s license number;

5. Your online passwords;

4. Your account numbers;

3. Your full name;

2. Your date of birth; and

1. Your Social Security number.

Now that we have identified what identity thieves may want, we should talk about ways to avoid identity theft. The first place we will talk about protecting is in your home. It is important to lock up financial documents and shred anything that you no longer need that may contain sensitive information. Additionally, you should limit what you carry with you in your purse or wallet and only carry the things you use daily. Finally, be sure to order your free credit report once per year from a trusted credit reporting company and review activity closely.

While you are doing business, only give out your Social Security number if you must. Think twice before you give out your Social Security number and make sure it is a trustworthy place to do so. Next, avoid public places for private conversations. If the phone call is urgent, find a private place to take it. Finally, never give out your full Social Security number over the phone or via email.

Your computer is also an important place to secure against identity theft. First, use difficult passwords for all accounts. Your password should not be the same for every account that you have. Again, do not share personal information through email. Next, be wise about using Wi-Fi. Most public Wi-Fi networks are not secure, making it easier for your information to be shared with others. Additionally, do not download anything from strangers. Anything that is downloaded to your computer should be from a trusted source. It is also key to use anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer. This helps better protect your information that is stored on the computer. Finally, always remember to wipe all information from a computer or device before throwing it away or selling it.

Identity theft can be a scary thought, but following these steps could help protect you and your information. The most important thing to remember is to always keep your personal information secure.

Carlee Quinn is a county engagement specialist: agriculture & environment for the University of Missouri Extension: Caldwell County.