Keeping your information safe online is critical. There are many dangers to putting easily accessed information online. Identity theft, stalkers, and people with malicious intent to damage your reputation are just a few of the reasons you should take your online security seriously.
How to Protect Your Information Online
Before discussing the ways to protect your information, you should make sure you have not already had your data compromised. Use a reputable background check source and do a background check on yourself. Use a site like:
- Instant Checkmate
At the same time, you should order a copy of your credit report. You are entitled to one free report each year. Take both the background check and the credit report and do a careful review. If there is any incorrect information, address the issue with the appropriate agency. If there is erroneous data on your credit report, you dispute the information, and they will investigate.
Once you have assured that your background check is clear of errors, it is time to take further steps to protect your identity. Consider signing up for a service that alerts you to changes in your credit report. An alert from this service may be your first indication that you are a victim of identity theft. Taking steps to protect your online data is smart, but everything online is vulnerable to hackers.
Basic steps to take to help protect your information:
- Change all your passwords, and do so on a regular schedule.
- Do not use the same password for multiple sites.
- Encrypt your data. Most sites that buy and sell, or require personal information, use encryption software. Look for the lock symbol to make sure you are sending data through an encrypted channel.
- Verify the site you are using. Scammers are known for purchasing domains that vary by one letter from trusted websites such as banks and retailers. These sites can look very realistic.
- Be aware of phishing scams. Phishing scams are when scammers impersonate real entities to attempt to gain access to your personal information or have you send them money.
One common scam right now is a phone call from the IRS stating you have an overdue balance and they will take action if you do not provide payment today.
Other examples are emails from iTunes that will show a receipt for an outrageous charge, and tell you that you have a certain amount of time to dispute the charge. They then require that you provide your username and password to verify your identity. The email did not originate from iTunes, and it is a phishing scam to gain access to your account. (Check the actual originating email address. It is usually a very unusual string of nonsensical characters).
The same types of scams can include banks, credit cards, and numerous other legitimate institutions. If you are unsure if the call or email is legitimate, then contact the institution yourself. In the case of the iTunes scam, you can log onto your iTunes account and see if there has been any unusual activity.
- Avoid using public WiFi. If you must use public WiFi, do not use any personal information like login information or passwords.
- Be careful about how much information you share on social media. It is surprising how easy it can be for someone to piece together enough information from your social media to steal your identity. Set your social media accounts to private so that only people on your friend’s list can see what you post.
- Password protect your phone and computer.
- Engage the find my phone feature on your iOS device. Androids and other phones have a similar function. If your phone is stolen, you can erase it remotely, removing any personal data stored on the phone.