While birthday wishes from far-and-wide can make your special day even more special, it is one of those obvious data points that financial institutions use to authenticate you. From Facebook to dating sites, we often disclose at least the month and day of our birthdays (if not the year). Unfortunately, in concert with online resumes or a LinkedIn profile that shows our graduation dates, it's pretty easy to figure out one's entire birthday -- let alone their hometown, home address, or the name of their high school, which are also common challenge questions for financial institutions. If you can't contain your desperate need to leave it offline for whatever reason, make sure you don't use it as your password or PIN to another account.
The amount that we share online makes us more likely to feel like sharing widely is a normal thing, online and off. But the ease with which we publicize seemingly harmless bits of personal information online and off is often what scam artists rely upon when they go phishing, like in the new Netflix user phishing scam, or when they try to convince a customer service person that they are us. You don't have to make it any easier than it is, and you can make it a lot harder without going dark – just be smart about what you let into the light.
If you're worried about identity theft, it's smart to monitor your bank accounts and your credit to make sure if you do become a victim, you can act quickly. You can pay for a credit monitoring service, or you can monitor your credit scores for free using a tool like the Credit Report Card, which updates two of your credit scores for free every month. Any major, unexpected changes in your scores could signal identity theft, and you should pull your credit reports (which you can do for free once a year) to confirm.
Adam Levin is chairman and cofounder of Credit.com and Identity Theft 911. His experience as former director of the New Jersey Division of Consumer Affairs gives him unique insight into consumer privacy, legislation and financial advocacy. He is a nationally recognized expert on identity theft and credit.