In order to keep your identity and your money safe from scams and fraudsters, you have to protect your personal info online.
It seems like we can’t go more than a day without another big company admitting they’ve been the victim of a hack or leak. And if the big companies can’t seem to protect their data, what chance do you have?
“In today’s data-driven landscape, your personal data is almost the most valuable thing,” warned Mathias J. Klenk, Co-founder and CEO at Passbase. “Stolen data can be used to create fraudulent accounts—for mortgages, insurance policies, credit cards, or loans—oftentimes risking the business’s reputation and security.”
To some degree, using the internet at all opens you up to the risk of having your data stolen—just like how leaving the house theoretically opens you up to the risk of having your wallet stolen. (And even if you don’t leave the house, someone could always try to break in.)
However, much like leaving the house, going online is almost essential to surviving in our modern world. And while you can’t eliminate the risk entirely, there are many steps you can take to greatly reduce the risk of having your data stolen online.
“Online security is a delicate balance between safety and ease-of-use,” explained Chris Mindel, marketing manager for Dexter Edward LLC. “One of the simplest ways to decrease your risk of being affected by data breaches is to tightly control the amount of your data that is out there.”
Which brings us to our first tip to protecting your data:
1. Control the data you put out.
The most obvious way to keep your data from being stolen is to avoid putting it online in the first place. Obviously, you’ll need to make exceptions for ease-of-use as Mindel said, but generally there’s some info you don’t have to be quite as cautious about sharing.
“Whenever a site asks you to save personal data, perform what I call the Google Test,” recommended Mindel. “Can this information be found in a Google search? Things like name, phone numbers, addresses, age, date of birth, and public email addresses can all be found by anyone using Google. So, since that info can be discovered elsewhere easily, it’s safe to share with an online account. If someone exposes your data in a breach, nothing new is exposed.”
2. Be certain the site you’re on is the site you think you’re on.
Scammers will often set up fake websites to try and fool users into giving away their information. This will often occur via email. That’s why you need to pay particular attention to the address bar in your browser before you enter your info.
“To avoid any sort of malware or malicious content, it is preferable to use websites you are familiar with and or have used frequently,” advised Victor Fredung, CEO of Shufti Pro. “One rule of thumb to adopt is to check to see if the URL of the website you are using contains ‘http’ or ‘https.’”
In general, if you’ve received a suspicious looking email that claims to be from a company you patronize, you’re much safer just going to the site on your own, rather than clicking suspicious links. Please do not ever click suspicious links you’ve been emailed.
3. Use browser security tools.
If apes can use tools, surely you can as well. Perhaps even browser security tools!
“Browser security tools—adblockers and script blockers—will reduce the risks of malware infection via malicious ads on shady (and even regular) websites,” suggested the cybersecurity and consumer privacy experts at VPNpro. “Certain types of malware can be used to steal data from your computer or install keyloggers to breach accounts.”
Of course, you’ll have to be certain that the tools you’re using aren’t malware themselves! Try to do research and find tools with many, many positive reviews before downloading and installing anything.
4. Clean up your memberships and subscriptions.
If you’re savvy, you’ve probably created many accounts across the web to get bonuses for signing up with new services. If you want to be even savvier, consider deleting those accounts when you no longer need them.
“Many websites prompt users to sign up for their service—and oftentimes, users create an account for a one-time service and forget about it,” explained Klenk. “Ensure you do a quick spring cleaning to opt out of services that are no longer required.”
5. Be smart about your passwords.
Hopefully, your password is something harder to guess than “password123.” (Okay, it sounds like you’re quickly typing away, trying to change your password as fast as you can.) But even if it wasn’t that obvious, you can probably stand to be even safer in your password habits.
“Use strong and different passwords,” urged Olga Sushko, privacy advocate at Kromtech. “While this recommendation may sound cliché, it is still very important. Create passwords that are long and contain uppercase and lowercase characters, numbers, and special symbols.
“Furthermore, use different passwords for all your accounts. This way, even if one of your accounts gets hacked, the attackers won’t be able to access your other accounts.
“If you have a hard time memorizing all your passwords — or even if you have a good memory — we recommend using a password manager (such as 1password, LastPass, or KeePass). You can create as many strong passwords as you need, change them easily and regularly, and even ‘emergency’ lock your accounts if you find you’ve been hacked.”
6. Use an antivirus.
What, were you planning to use a provirus? That’s madness!
“Install and activate an antivirus,” recommended Sushko. “Make sure you use a reliable software solution that will notify you if you accidentally visit a risky website or start installing a malicious program.”
7. Watch out for your Wi-Fi.
It’s not just what you do online that matters. It’s also where you’re going online.
“Use a secure internet connection,” advised Sushko. “It is better to perform sensitive online activities, such as shopping, banking operations, business communication, and so on, from the security of your home or office Wi-Fi rather than a free public network. Unprotected Wi-Fi networks make it easy for attackers to intercept the information you submit online.”
8. Do some regular check-ins.
If only there was some indication that you may have been implicated in a data breach. Well, bittersweet news! There is! And not only by finding out your info has been stolen.
“To take control of your digital footprint, you need to know what kind of information has been stored – and compromised on,” explained Klenk. “Handy tools like BreachChecker help you run a security check to see if any account information has been compromised in a data breach.”
9. Consider a VPN.
Did you know what a VPN is? Well you will now!
“Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) encrypt all traffic between you and the internet,” clarified the VPNpro experts. “This is particularly important when using an unprotected wifi hotspot in some public place (such as a cafe, library, or airport).
“Hackers on public networks can place themselves between you and the router and steal your data in what’s known as a man-in-the-middle attack. Encryptions completely erase the risk of this happening.”
10. Re-enter your credit card info each time.
Is it convenient having to re-enter your credit card info every time you want to buy something? No. But it’s probably the safer option.
“Don’t save your credit card numbers online,” warned Mindel. “Again, most people do this for convenience sake, but it really doesn’t take that long to enter the information in again. Do it enough times, and you’ll know the digits by heart, anyway.”
11. Be social media savvy.
Of all the online companies, Facebook may be the one that has given us the least reason to trust them with our data. It’s up to you if you want to use them and other social media sites, but if you do, you should be careful.
“Don’t link any accounts to your Facebook page (and remove any you can, if you already have),” urged Mindel. “Facebook relies on us being lazy and deciding to ‘log in with Facebook’ instead of taking a few moments to create a new account. This allows both parties access to all of your personal information.
“So, spend those extra moments, create a new account, and use a password manager to save all your information. This way, the account cannot access any private information you have on Facebook, which will prevent a cascading compromise in the event of a breach.”
You should also be careful about what information you’re posting.
“Always keep track of what you post online,” recommended Fredung. “Try not to overshare on social media, as fraudsters always look for personal information on online profiles to commit identity fraud.
“Never give out your personal details like full name (use nicknames or first name), DOB, Social Security Number, passwords, PIN numbers or any other details that may give scammers access to your online accounts.”
The internet can seem like a scary place. With these tips under your belt, you should be able to brave it!
Victor Fredung is a seasoned fintech innovator with multiple years of experience from the payment sector. He joined Shufti Pro (@Shufti_Pro) as CEO in 2018 and has led the company towards growth and success. In his time at the company, he has helped build a fraud prevention platform that allows businesses to verify their customers in real-time. Shufti Pro’s hybrid verification technology of AI and Human Intelligence lends increased accuracy to verifications, enhancing the onboarding process for businesses.
Chris Mindel is the Marketing Manager of Dexter Edward LLC. Dexter Edward is the premiere integrator of secure, encrypted, and traceless communications and collaboration systems and invisible cloud-based networks.
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