The fastest growing crime in the United States is identity theft, and considering our current Internet habits it’s not very surprising. We do our banking, shop and even do our taxes online. With so many sources of personal information, identity thieves can easily take money from your bank account, take out mortgages or loans in your name and destroy your credit. You don’t have to go back to doing everything through pen and paper.
Simply follow these steps in order to protect your identity online.
Create Strong Passwords
Creating a password is a muddy task. You’ll want one that will be easy to remember, but difficult to guess. As a rule of thumb, good passwords should have at least one number, one symbol, one capital letter and should be eight to fifteen characters long.
Use a different password for each website, especially when it comes to banking and shopping sites. Refrain from simply changing one character of other passwords to make a new password. It may be difficult, but aim to have a purely unique password for each website. That way if one account gets compromised others won’t be at higher risk.
Don’t store passwords on a file in your computer. If you need to have a cheat sheet, it’s best to write it down on paper and keep it somewhere you’re sure to remember but others likely won’t look, such as a safe or locked drawer.
Avoid Posting Personal Information on Social Media
Social media websites have become treasure troves of information for identity thieves. Users frequently post information such and their phone numbers, full names, the name of their child’s school, age and more on their pages without thinking that it could create a security risk. Avoid sharing personal information on your social media page as much as possible. If you feel it has to be given to certain people, leave it in a private message or set your page to be visible to friends only.
Be Wary of People Asking for Your Information Online
This is particularly prevalent in scam emails, but it can happen anywhere. Scammers and identity thieves may pretend to be someone legitimate in order to get your information. For instance, scam emails pretending to be the US Postal Service, UPS or FedEx have been sent to people claiming they failed to deliver a package and the only way to retrieve this non-existent package is to visit the link they provide. However, the link actually leads to a malicious website that could infect your computer with a virus or spyware that could obtain any personal information being stored on the machine.
If someone is seeking you out asking for information, it’s always best to double check everything. Do an online search of the email address. Hover over all links to ensure they’re not redirecting you somewhere you don’t intend to go. Check the email for grammatical and spelling errors that could be indicative of a fake. When in doubt, either don’t respond to these requests at all or directly contact the company about the email over the phone or in person.
Always Check for Security on Websites
You should always check to see if the website that you’re using is secure, especially when you’re making online transactions. There are some very simple ways to check if the website that you’re browsing is secure. First, check if the link starts with “https” not just “http.” The “s” signifies that the web page is encrypted and secure. Additionally, there should be a locked padlock icon next to the URL for securely encrypted sites. Next, click the little “i” icon to the address bar to see if the website’s security certificate, if it has one, is up to date.
Finally, many browsers alert you to websites that have odd security configurations or have been marked as hazardous sites. Always pay attention to these warnings. In some circumstances, they may be false positives, but it’s always best to stay on the safe side.
Ensure Your Internet Connection is Secured
Unprotected WiFi is an open door to hackers. Only use encrypted and password protected WiFi connections. Unless you’re using your phone network’s secure connection, refrain from using banking websites or shopping online in public places.
Use Security Software on Your Computer, Phone and Tablet
Most people know to install anti-virus, anti-malware, anti-spyware and other security programs on their home computers, but a lot of people don’t think to install these same programs on their mobile devices. With the spike in usage of mobile devices in recent years, they are becoming more and more susceptible to viruses and spyware. You don’t have to shell out a lot of money to get security suites on every device. Many premium security platforms offer coverage for various devices, and there are even numerous free software packages to choose from.
Only Enable Cookies When Necessary
Don’t Store Credit Card Information on Websites
Some websites offer to store your credit card information and other form details for the sake of quick and easy checkouts when shopping. Despite the fact that many online stores are very secure and trustworthy, it’s best to opt out of this service and manually enter the information when necessary.
Have a Secret Email
Many people only have one or two emails for personal and business use. They use these emails to sign up for other important websites that contain personal information. Email addresses are frequently given out all over the Internet, so it’s a good idea to have a secret email used purely for account log-ins.
We now have both an online and offline identity to protect. While the possibility of identity theft never goes away entirely, these tips will give you peace of mind when using your information online.