I’ve got some news for you – the scary back alley you’ve maybe found yourself in – after hours, alone, and questioning your rationale – it exists amongst your personal data – yours and countless others who right now have no clue. Most of us know that feeling, the one you get when the hairs on the back of your neck stand on end because you know something just isn’t quite right. The problem is most of us are sitting in our cozy lumbar-supported office chairs, far removed from that scary feeling, the one that says fight or flight! Maybe you’ve just popped in a K-Cup and finished reading your email – maybe you’ve got a solid to-do list and you’re ready to get crackin’ on it… but is protecting your personal data anywhere on that list? If you’re like most of us, not really.
Even those of us that think we know, don’t really know. Sure, we know we need to be careful about what we put out there on the web, but most of us roll our eyes at the idea thinking to ourselves, “not me… they don’t want mine.” Or “… how bad can it be?” When it comes to personal data, we’re not actually walking through those dark alleyways, but we’re subject to risk regardless. The fact is, cyber criminals want your personal data – they want it and everyone else’s!
Here are six tips to keep your personal data, personal:
Use unique passwords with each account and never share them
This logic is simple – if you recycle the same password, or even a variation of it, and a hacker cracks one account, he or she will most likely be able to access the rest of your accounts. Our brains are pretty impressive but if you’re like me, you’re not going to memorize dozens of passwords. Be smart about how you’re retaining these. Consider credible password managers, but if these still don’t fit the bill, consider the good ol’ sticky note method… just don’t forget to hide your sticky notes.
Use security solutions to protect yourself from online threats
Subscribe to a reputable computer security service. Believe me, it’s worth the money. Here at Credentials each PC must be powered on and running at all times. We do this so that virus detection is constantly pulling new virus signatures, the algorithms that uniquely identify a specific virus. This isn’t a once a day thing; every six hours we ensure our systems are not at stake. It’s that important. Although zero-day viruses will always be a problem, security services can help protect you from viruses, spyware, malware, and identity theft.
Keep your systems up-to-date
One of the most important steps in keeping your systems secure is to keep your systems regularly updated. Using outdated Internet browsers, programs, and plug-ins present huge security issues. Popular programs we all know and love are targeted by malware creators just itchin’ to infect your computer or device, and there are tons of websites that exploit security bugs in your browser. Do yourself a favor and set up automatic updates.
On top of keeping everything current, know that your brand-new computer and operating system won’t last forever. In an era where “forever” doesn’t mean what it used to, your brand new computer with its brand new operating system probably won’t last more than two years before you have to replace it. I know, I know... You’ve probably had a pair of jeans or sneakers last longer than that. Me too.
Be discreet and selective about what you share online
Notwithstanding that I just said “forever” isn’t very long, your online data is definitely an exception to that statement. Take a second to think about that… forever. You may think that the data you just posted online is harmless and most certainly it can be satisfying to get those “likes”, but often we’re sharing personal, intimate details of our lives with virtual strangers in a public forum where the information is accessible forever.
Let’s think on this for a moment. Say a hacker obtains some, not all, of your personal data. What are his or her next steps? Hop onto a search engine, type in your name, and what do you think pops up right away? All your social media use. Now they have a source – a credible one at that – because you’ve created it, over long periods of time, with tons and tons of information. Now all these hackers need to do is sift through your story to find the remaining pieces of the puzzle.
Set up credit card transaction notifications
As an added safeguard, set up text message alerts or email notifications for your all your credit card transactions. That’s right, all of them. Every vendor is offering this service these days and why not take advantage? You can set the dollar amount to whatever threshold you like, however we recommend a dollar. You’ll stay aware of every transaction posted to your credit card and be able to shut down fraudulent activity at the first instance.
Disclaimer: All those daily coffee runs may have gone financially unnoticed before… they won’t now!
Report suspicious activities related to your accounts
What should be reported as “suspicious activity”? There’s no easy answer there… the fact is, there’s quite a bit to be aware of and even then, cyber criminals are constantly evolving their scamming techniques. Some big red flags include:
- You receive a letter thanking you for the new charge account you supposedly just opened
- Withdrawals from your accounts that you can’t explain
- Calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours
- Unfamiliar accounts or changes on your credit report
- New bills from creditors you haven’t engaged with
- Medical bills you haven’t received services for
- Notification of compromised data breach at a company you do not associate with
- Phishing emails asking you for personal information like passwords, credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, PINs, etc. 1
If something seems off, don’t let it slide! Any of the above examples are reason to contact your merchant accounts for more information. If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft take the following steps right away:
- Report the fraudulent activities to the companies where you know fraud occurred
- Place a fraud alert and get your credit reports
- Report identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission
- File a report with your local police department 2
Do these facts jolt you? They should! Does this mean you should stop participating in “internetting”? Absolutely not! Consider it a sort of respect… The same way chefs talk about being “afraid” of their knives just enough to prevent chopping off a finger – that’s how you should contemplate the internet. Let’s be smart about it… Let’s have an open dialog so we can figure out how to prevent our personal data from being breeched.
Look forward to our next article on a similar topic… What steps should you take when you suspect identity theft?
2 Federal Trade Commission. (2016). Steps. Identitytheft.gov. Retrieved from https://www.identitytheft.gov/Steps
1 Federal Trade Commission. (2015). Warning Signs of Identity Theft. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved from https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0271-warning-signs-identity-theft