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5 ways to protect your online game identity

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One of the cool side benefits of owning a PS Vita is the ability to connect to the PlayStation Network from just about anywhere. As with Apple's App Store, you no longer have to be sitting at a desk -- or on a couch -- to buy and download new games.

But for every step towards digital freedom comes an additional risk. Just as someone can usurp your identity on a console and buy things using any credits you've accumulated, someone who pickpockets your new game system or smartphone can likewise gain access to your game accounts and rack up charges in a jiffy.

Safeguarding yourself isn't that difficult, though. By following just a few simple steps, you'll be able to substantially cut the risk of losing your game identity in the event that you lose your handheld.

Never mix passwords

This is one of the first rules of ID protection, but it's one people ignore all too often. While it's a pain in the neck to remember a dozen passwords -- and which password goes with which account -- this is one real-world instance of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure.

[Related: If You're Using This Password, Change It. Now]

Any account that's tied to your gaming device can be compromised, and it's not uncommon for the people who access that information to go on fishing expeditions to see what other accounts they can get into. If you use the same password for the PlayStation Network as you do for your Xbox Live account, for instance, it's a fair bet that anyone who gets access to one will have an easy time getting into the other. If you use the same password for your online banking, things can get exponentially worse.

Every account should have a different password. And it goes without saying that you should never, ever give your account info out to other players.

Beware your email

Another old chestnut: If you get an email asking for your password or asking you to click a link (even if it looks like it's from a console company or publisher), your alarm should go off. Phishing emails can be incredibly convincing, but they're easily avoided.

Look for obvious typos and never trust links in the email. Copy and paste them into your browser and make sure that the URL at the top of the screen is exactly what you entered. Any email that's simply an image file should be immediately suspect.

You'd think gamers might know this, but the string of Xbox Live accounts taken over last year as part of a FIFA DLC scam seemed to originate from just this sort of hook.

Know your hotspot

Gaming on the go with your iPhone, 3DS or Vita is great, but it often requires a cellular or WiFi connection. If you're going with WiFi, it's a good idea to know the network you're logging onto.

Hackers can compromise public WiFi hotspots and potentially capture information you enter when making a purchase or download. And that can give them entrée to your accounts.

While there's little, if any, danger in playing a multiplayer game of Words With Friends or Wipeout 2048, it's usually best to avoid purchasing new games over an unsecured public Wifi  hotspot.

Going mobile on Xbox? Plan ahead

While there's no portable platform for Xbox 360 gamers, that hasn't stopped countless players from making their accounts mobile. Many people who are heading to a friend's house to play Madden or some co-op Gears of War simply 'recover' their account once they get there.

A safer way to do that is to put your account on a memory card, which you can physically transport with you. You'll have to keep an eye on it, of course — leave the card lying around and someone can easily pocket it — but you won't have to worry about others masquerading as you without your knowledge.

Watch your bills

Hackers are good at what they do, and you may not know your gamer identity has been compromised until it's too late. At that point, the best you can do is alert the moderators.

How will you know? Generally, your credit card bill — or Microsoft point balance, PlayStation wallet, etc. — is the best indicator. If you see any charges or deductions that are unfamiliar, raise a red flag immediately. Get more information and let both the console company and your credit card provider know your concerns. It will still be a headache to restore your identity and regain control of your account, but it could help prevent unauthorized spending.

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