A close friend of mine recently had her identity stolen, and she’s still trying to pick up the pieces. I always thought she was careful about her online and credit card habits, but I guess it wasn’t enough to protect against identity thieves. Her predicament has me worried about protecting my own identity.
What can I do to better protect my identity online?
About 1 in 15 people were the victims of identity theft in 2017. With data breaches becoming increasingly common, it’s more difficult to protect your personal information. Even those who are careful about the information they give online can become victims of identity theft.
Protecting your personal and financial information will require diligence and persistence.
One simple thing you can do to improve your personal cybersecurity is close any unused accounts you might have. Maybe you have an old email account that you haven’t used in years, but that account is probably still up and running. If you’re using the same old passwords and usernames, a data breach in these old accounts could be dangerous and give thieves the information they need to get into your active accounts.
After you’ve closed down these “zombie accounts,” then you can update your software and hardware. One of the best things you can do to mitigate ransomware is to patch old and outdated software, including your operating system and applications. Consider turning on automatic system updates for your devices, and make sure that your web browsers also receive automatic security updates. Keep all browser plug-ins updated.
If you haven’t done so already, install an anti-virus and firewall on your desktop and/or laptop. Only use anti-virus software from trusted vendors, and make sure that you keep it up to date. A firewall will also help keep hackers away from your system. Windows and Mac systems both come with firewalls pre-installed. Your router should also have a built-in firewall to further help prevent attacks on your network.
As a general rule of thumb, you should change your passwords on a regular basis, and your passwords should be strong. Ideally, passwords should contain at least one:
- Uppercase letter
- Lowercase letter
Choose a password that’s easy to remember, and never use the same password more than once. If you have trouble remembering your passwords, you can use a password management tool to keep them all organized.
Another simple but effective way to help protect your identity is to use two-factor or multi-factor authentication. With two-factor authentication, you’ll be prompted to enter an additional authentication method, such as another password, a personal code or even a fingerprint. With multi-factor authentication, you’ll be asked to enter more than two additional authentication methods after you enter your username and password.
Also, if you’re on social media, you may want to adjust your privacy settings to limit the information people can see. With Facebook, for example, you can change your privacy settings to ensure that only your friends or “friends of friends” can view your phone number (if you’ve provided one).
Protecting your identity is a complex process and one that requires diligence. But it’s worth the effort to avoid the complications and life-altering effects of identity theft.