Daily Money Tip: How to protect against identity theft

As victims of the recent Target card-data breach, we learned the hard way that we live in a post-privacy world.

So we asked some security experts how to protect our identities now that this type of theft seems as common as stolen cars and home burglaries.

Adam Levin, co-founder and chairman of IDentity Theft 911 in New York City, says most identity theft starts with incoming phone calls or e-mails. If a stranger calls claiming to be from Verizon, Microsoft, jury-duty service or a utility, don't give out personal information. Initiate the calls yourself and make sure the companies are legitimate, Levin says.

Another new scam: Cyber crooks now e-mail fake funeral notices. Stealing the names and logos of legitimate funeral homes, they send authentic-looking notices that appear to be invitations to funerals or services for a friend or acquaintance.

The danger is in an attached link, which claims to provide details about the "upcoming celebration of your friend's life service."

Don't click on the link! By doing so, you are downloading malware onto your computer, Levin said.

Tom Patterson, global cybersecurity lead for CSC in Santa Clara, Calif., is lecturing to Wharton executive MBAs this week on how their employees can prevent security breaches such as the ones at Target and Neiman Marcus.

"The kind of cyber-attacks we saw at the Pentagon and the U.S. government are now happening at stores," Patterson said.

What do the experts advise?

Don't download free apps like Flashlight on your phone; you've just given permission to copy all your contacts, record calls and harvest credit-card data.

Create a pass-phrase, not a password, such as person/place/time, or CindyGermany82. "And don't use your mother's maiden name," Patterson said. "It's too easy to find."

Once a year, Patterson said, he asks his credit-card companies for new numbers, in case his old ones have been compromised and are for sale online to bad guys.

Call the local FBI field office for education. "They can't call you, but you can call them to visit your company for prevention tips," he said.

Check into ID theft coverage, often offered under your homeowners' insurance policy or through your credit union, Levin said.