Today, we can engage in virtually all aspects of our lives through a digital medium. We shop, pay bills, book travel, check our financial accounts, apply for loans and connect with family and friends around the world. But this global, digital village creates risks too. How do you protect your personal identity from scammers and hackers?
Hackers and Thieves Never Rest
A hacker steals your identity. Using your personal data, he opens credit card accounts in your name and goes on a shopping spree. He has the bills sent to a different address, never pays and skips out once he reaches the credit limit. You apply for credit and are turned down. Your credit is good. You check your credit report and find out that your credit score has tanked. Your personal identity has been stolen.
It’s not only online though. Thieves also go through trash dumpsters to find credit card bills, bank account statements and other documents that reveal your personal data. Recently skimmers have been causing serious problems to consumers. When you go to gas up and swipe your credit card at the station, skimmers steal your credit card information.
Taking steps to protect your personal identity is critical to your financial health.
How do you Protect Your Personal Identity?
We can’t go backward in time. The reality of our digital world is not going to change, and all the crooks are not going to retire. This means you must be conscious of the risks out there all the time and not become easy prey. The more protection you employ, the less appealing you will be to the thieves. They want easy and quick access. If you throw up a lot of walls, they will move on to someone else.
Easy Protection Strategies
An easy way to protect your personal identity is to be more careful about setting up and storing passwords. If you are going to personalize your password, be sure it is a long string of numbers, upper case and lowercase letters, and special characters.
Don’t use the same password for everything. It’s easier for our memories and easier for hackers. If he figures out your password for one account, he has an open door to all your accounts. Verizon says that 81% of data breaches are because passwords are re-used or are weak.
Use a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane. They manage strong passwords for you no matter the number of online accounts you are using.
Keep your passwords in an off-line location, not on your computer. And don’t let your computer remember your passwords. It’s so much more convenient, but it exposes you to risk.
When outside, don’t use public Wi-Fi networks unless you’re just surfing the net. Wait to access your online financial accounts when you are on a secured network. And, when you do use a public network, be sure to clear your browser cache. Don’t let it automatically input your credentials.
Use Your Email Address to Sign-in to Accounts and Platforms
We can access many apps and online sites with our Facebook, Google or Instagram profile. It makes it easy, just a single click. But this exposes you to a data breach. Instead, take the time to enter your email address and other content requested by the platform.
Two-factor notification makes it much harder for cyber thieves to hack your account. They would need both your email address and phone number before they can steal your personal identity. An even stronger strategy would be to use Google Authenticator or Authy.
Shred Your Documents
Taking steps to protect your personal identity extends beyond the digital world. If you still receive bank account statements or credit card bills in the mail, be sure to shred them before discarding in the trash. Security experts advise that you should even shred junk mail to keep your name and address from falling into the hands of thieves.
We all love it that airports, hotels and other public spaces have finally made USB charging stations available for us. Being able to recharge our cellphone when on the road is a lifesaver. But, when charging your phone and other devices, you expose yourself to malware. It’s called “juice hacking.”
According to law enforcement authorities, juice hacking works like this: cyber-criminals load malware onto charging stations or to cables that are left plugged into charging stations. They can then infect your digital device. Once infected, the criminals can extract data, such as passwords which can be used to access your bank accounts, emails, and text messages. In only takes minutes. And you will never know it.
Avoid public charging stations. Or if you need to charge, use your own charger and plug it into a regular outlet. If you want to use the USB connection, purchase a data blocker that protects your digital device from intruders.
Check Your Credit Report and Monitor Yourself Online
You can check your credit report three times a year for free. Credit monitoring services are available for a fee. Set up your credit card account to send you alerts whenever there is a charge.
If you see any errors on your credit report, dispute them right away. Contact any compromised credit card carriers and inform them of the theft.
Set up a regular schedule of checking out your online presence. This will alert you to any social media accounts that are not yours, evidence that your accounts have been hacked.
It’s a few extra steps, but this is much better than waking up one day to find out that someone has hacked into your account, stolen your personal identity and destroyed your credit.