Over 17 million Americans had their identity stolen in 2014, but unless you’ve been a victim yourself, you might not care a whole lot about the issue, or truly understand its implications. Identity theft is when someone steals and uses your personal information. Most people think of hackers taking control of bank accounts and credit cards, but that really only skims the surface of their capabilities. They can wreak havoc on things like your email, social media pages and Apple account. Some of the more sophisticated hackers have even been known to receive medical treatment and accept tax refunds, all under someone else’s name. Having your identity stolen can mess with your finances, your credit history, and your reputation, and it requires a lot of hard work, time and money to sort out. You can help protect yourself from identity theft by taking these extra steps online.
Limit Personal Information
This seems like a no-brainer, but that doesn’t stop people from posting on social media pictures of their new driver’s license or a large check they’ve received. These individuals may think they’re safe, because what can a hacker really do with just that? But combine that with other little bits of information speckled across the internet and a hacker has everything they need to make things difficult for you. In addition to being smart about what you post online, some experts would suggest muddying things up for potential hackers by using just a tad of misinformation along with information that is true. Instead of setting up your online accounts with your actual birthday, pick a fake one that you consistently use instead. This can stop a hacker who has accessed your bank account information from crossing into your Gmail account, and visa-versa.
Strengthen Your Online Passwords
The average online user would benefit from giving their passwords a boost. There was a point in time, one that you probably remember, where a good online password meant that it was something others couldn’t guess, but today’s hackers aren’t sitting around guessing. With sophisticated software programs, they’re able to uncover all-lowercase passwords in minutes and short, complex passwords in months. A good password by today’s standards is at least 8 characters but should be closer to 16. It should include a mixture of lowercase letters, uppercase letters, numbers and symbols. Because most people limit themselves to the same password, or some variation of it across all of their accounts, it’s easy for a hacker to gain access to everything once they’ve cracked the code for just one. That’s why your passwords should also be different for each and every one of your online accounts. Consider using a password manager like LastPass. Remember to change your passwords at least once each year.
Set Controls For Kids
If your child uses your computer, or if you have a niece, nephew or cousin you sometimes babysit, it may be wise to add a few more security measures to your device. Kids don’t always know that the antivirus software popup isn’t really antivirus software at all, or that the zip file that arrived in their email under no circumstances should be opened. Requiring that a password be entered to access your device and implementing certain parental controls can help. While supervising kids on digital devices can go a long way, you should also have a conversation with them about online security. With kids as young as three knowing how to work a smartphone, the earlier you have this conversation, the better.
Use Online Payment Methods
One of the most frequent ways identities get stolen is through online shopping, especially when shoppers use unfamiliar sites, when shoppers enter their credit card information when there’s not a secure connection, and when shoppers store their credit card information on the site itself. You can help protect your identify while buying online by skipping the credit card and using a payment method like PayPal or Google Wallet instead. With these services, you only have to disclose your information once to set up the account. After that, you can make all the purchases you want without websites ever receiving your credit card numbers. With that being said, PayPal and Google Wallet themselves aren’t hacker-proof, so you should still take steps to protect yourself. Set up a secure password, monitor your account for fraudulent charges, and don’t access your account in public… which brings us to our next tip.
Be Smart with Public Wi-Fi
If you have a laptop, iPad or smartphone, then surely you’ve connected to your hotel’s Wi-Fi on an out-of-town trip or a restaurant’s Wi-Fi as you waited for a table. Having public access to the internet is a wonderful convenience that lets you work when you’re on the go or be entertained when you’re bored; however, it does come with a few risks. Networks that don’t require a password to connect are easier to hack than those that do. Therefore, don’t assume your network is secure. If possible, you should avoid making purchases, paying bills, and accessing financial information. Immediately log out of your accounts once they’re no longer in use. And that handy setting on your phone that offers to remember this network connection? You might want to politely decline. You should always be aware if and when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi.
Use an External Hard Drive
The scanned picture of your driver’s license. The copy of your birth certificate. The photograph of your social security card. These are things you might have needed when traveling or starting a new job, but once they’ve served their purpose, they have absolutely no business remaining anywhere on your computer, even if you suspect in a few months or a few years you’ll need them again. Either destroy sensitive files or store them off your computer. If you plan to recycle, donate or sell your computer, make doubly sure you’ve completely cleansed the device of all personal data.