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Want to know what’s worse than having naked pictures of yourself leaked online? Having your financial information stolen or compromised — or so said 55% of those polled in MasterCard’s Emotion of Safety & Security Research survey, released today.

Even more would rather have their homes robbed (59%) or email hacked (62%) than have financial data stolen or compromised. Interesting as those statistics are, most criminals don’t ask potential victims which crime they would prefer. And so we’re left to try to figure out how to keep safe.

Almost half (48%) feel personally responsible for keeping their data safe, and virtually everyone (92%) reports doing at least something to protect themselves (here are some ways to keep identity thieves at bay).

The survey was conducted by phone by Braun Research from May 8 – 12 among 1,000 adult consumers in the U.S. The survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.1% at the 95% confidence level.

People generally get that the problem of data privacy is serious — that a Social Security number can enable someone to open a new line of credit in your name or drain your bank account, or that an intercepted credit card number can allow someone far away to to use a the card that seems to be safely tucked in your wallet.

But there are so many kinds of identity theft that sometimes our response is simply to be overwhelmed — which results in inaction, says identity theft and personal security expert Robert Siciliano.

Which is how security can fall by the wayside. While there are things we can — and should — do to protect ourselves, we don’t necessarily do them. We know we should change passwords regularly, use strong passwords (upper and lowercase letters, numerals and special characters) and be careful about using public Wi-Fi, but who has time? Besides, it’s a numbers game, and consumers may assume that if they’ve gotten away without taking precautions before, their luck probably will hold out.

Siciliano said that if you haven’t changed your password in more than a year, “your passwords are more than likely in the hands of a criminal.” Just because it hasn’t been used yet doesn’t mean it won’t be.

Siciliano says trying to protect yourself online isn’t unlike taking care of car safety. It’s easy to think it’s as simple as buckling up, forgetting that we also need to have brakes serviced periodically, change oil and do other maintenance to keep our cars running safely. And yet when the brake light comes on, most of us take time to address the problem. But tell us we need to install a computer update, and we are often too busy. We will do it later.

Among the things people could do but often dismiss as too time-consuming or inconvenient are using a virtual private network (VPN) when using public W-Fi, Siciliano said. Many VPNs are free, but they will take about 10 minutes to install (and that, he says, is precisely why many of us do not have them). A VPN masks and encrypts your data. It doesn’t take any longer to get on your network than it would to update your status on Facebook, he said.

Other simple things: Update your computer, smartphone and/or tablet’s operating system regularly. Updates address vulnerabilities. Also, schedule scans to be sure your computer is free of known viruses and spyware.

If you use credit cards, favor those with chips, Siciliano advises. Most cards are updating to chip and PIN technology, but some still have only magnetic strips (the magnetic strip can be used by merchants that have not upgraded to the newer, more secure technology). Siciliano said many larger issuers are sending chip cards when old ones expire, but some also offer new cards on request. Carolyn Balfany, senior vice president of product delivery – EMV, MasterCard, said the chip credit and debit cards will better protect against fraud. “Chip cards have embedded computer chips on the front of the cards which create unique codes for every purchase. The unique codes make the cards nearly impossible to copy. U.S. financial institutions have already started issuing payment cards with chip technology to their customers,” she said. Further, consumers are never held responsible for fraud regardless of which kind of card they use.

Checking your financial accounts, as well as your credit reports and credit scores, regularly can also tip you off to a problem that you need to correct before it becomes an even bigger problem. You can sign up for account alerts to notify you whenever a transaction is made, or you can just log in every day to look at your statements. You can get your free annual credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com, and you can track your credit by getting your credit scores for free from Credit.com, which are updated monthly.

More on Identity Theft:

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