Having your identity stolen sucks. Here are some steps you can take to make sure your personal info doesn't end up all over the Dark Web.
We recently told you what to do when you’re the target of identity theft. But you know what’s really nice? Not being the victim of identity theft in the first place!
Thankfully, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your sensitive personal info. Some of the experts from the previous piece have returned with great bits of advice on how identity theft can be prevented in the first place.
1. Step up your password game.
In our blog about being the target of identity theft, Drew Kellerman, founder of Phase 2 Wealth Advisors in Gig Harbor, Washington offered advice about why you must change your passwords. Unsurprisingly, having a strong password is also a good way to prevent future identity theft.
“It’s a risk to not change your passwords regularly AND to use the same passwords for all accounts,” warned Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified.com. “Stay away from family names, pet names, birth dates, street names from addresses at which you have lived, etc. Most of this information can be easily found by googling, checking public records or on social media.
“Include symbols, upper and lower case letters throughout the password (not just the first letter), and numbers. Nonsensical combinations are the safest, but if you must go with something that will be easier to remember, use password phrases instead of words.
“If you know a foreign language, combine words from another language with English to complete your phrase. And make sure you change your passwords frequently and make them at least 8 characters long and a variety of letters, numbers, symbols and upper and lower case.
“Once you set yourself up with a password manager, you’ll never want to look back. Gone will be the days of trying to remember passwords or come up with strong ones. A password manager creates unbreakable passwords and safely encrypts them. You only need to remember one password to access all of your passwords.
“It’s never a good idea to use the same password for various accounts and websites. However, there are a few tricks you can use to create similar passwords with variations that make them difficult to figure out but make full sense to you.
“For example, if you want to sign up to Facebook you could add ‘FB’ or Instagram as ‘IG’ to the start or end of the password. You could also try a variation of the website’s name by mixing upper and lower cases, symbols, and numbers until you have a password that you like.”
2. Get yourself another factor.
When it comes to protecting your online accounts, one-factor authentication isn’t cool. You know what’s cool? Two-factor authentication.
“Many companies, especially banks and other financial institutions, now have Two-Factor Authentication (2FA) when you log in,” Kellerman explained. “This adds a second layer of security and ‘authentication’ above and beyond just your username and password.
“While some sites make 2FA mandatory, others offer it as an option. We highly recommend ‘turning on’ two-step verification with every website that offers it. This includes your online email account access. It takes just a few minutes and significantly strengthens your protection against hackers.”
3. Stop delaying that browser update.
We get it. It’s annoying having those “update” messages come up and having to restart your browser or computer seems is just too much of a hassle. But it’s important.
“Surfing the web without an updated browser is like swimming with sharks,” cautioned Lavelle. “It’s not really a matter of if, but when, a cybercriminal will spot you—floundering on the Internet without a cage—and attack.
“Web browsers often have security updates which require a browser update to take effect. To make sure you’re using the latest version, visit the homepage of the browser you’re using. It will let you know directly when you arrive to the page.”
4. Keep the cell to yourself.
We know you’re popular. Everyone wants your digits! But maybe don’t give out those digits all willy-nilly.
“Your cell phone number is linked to nearly everything about you,” Lavelle told us. “Giving it out so easily is like inviting a criminal into your home. You should treat your phone number like it’s your social security number. The path to personal information is the same.
“You can do so much to protect your device from hackers. But if the actual physical device gets into the hands of a criminal, it will be a lot easier for them to extract or corrupt information. So, don’t leave your phone or laptop unattended in public places.”
5. Beware public Wi-fi.
Wi-Fi is such a magical development. But, much like magic in nearly any fiction, it can be used for good or evil.
“Be cautious with public Wi-Fi,” advised Lavelle. “Never do any online shopping, banking or other sensitive online activities on a public Wi-Fi network. Although coffee shops, grocery stores, and other public places may have convenient internet connections, they’re often not secure which could allow someone else to easily access your information.”
So while identity theft is a pain, you can definitely lower your odds of having to face it. With this advice and the advice from the previous identity theft blog, you’ll be much better prepared to avoid these online jackals.
Drew Kellerman is the founder of Phase 2 Wealth Advisors in Gig Harbor, Washington.
Justin Lavelle is a Scams Prevention Expert and the Chief Communications Officer of BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified). BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It helps people discover, understand and use public data in their everyday lives and can provide peace of mind by offering a fast, easy and affordable way to do background checks on potential dates. BeenVerified allows individuals to find more information about people, phone numbers, email addresses, and property records.
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