Cyber security is increasingly on Americans' minds, as each passing month seems to bring more news of a data breach here or identity fraud there. Not only has this become the fastest-growing crime in the nation, it's one that routinely costs regular people thousands, even millions, of dollars in fraudulent purchases and damaged credit histories. Even more troubling is that it can occur from some of the most routine, mundane activities in our lives, like swiping a credit card at a department store or sharing personal information on Facebook.
The bad news is that there's no foolproof method of identity theft protection. The good news is that there are plenty of steps you can take to mitigate your chances of becoming the latest ID fraud victim. Here are four suggestions worth incorporating into your day-to-day life.
- Be wary of chain emails: If you ever get a message in your inbox from someone who claims to be Nigerian royalty looking for money, or a lottery winner that wants to share their prize with you but needs some personal info to validate it, just delete it. Replying to spam emails or forwarding them to others can put your email address and other personal credentials in the wrong hands. Use a spam filter with your email client to ensure these messages never get to you in the first place.
- Make stronger passwords: Your birthday or dog's name may be easy for you to remember, but they're also just as easy for others to crack. Treat passwords more as passphrases, with some letters randomly swapped out for numbers, symbols and other hard-to-guess characters. Always make sure to give each of your online accounts its own passphrase too. That way, in the event that an identity thief hacks into your Twitter profile, they won't automatically have the keys to your email or bank account too.
- Update anti-virus protection: Download and install all of the latest anti-spyware, anti-malware and anti-virus protections for your computer to help keep out hackers and other prying eyes. You can also set your computer to automatically update these firewalls whenever the newest versions are made available.
- Using public Wi-Fi? Keep it private: If you're using a public Wi-Fi network for your internet connection, don't send out important information like names, credit card data or Social Security numbers. There's no guarantee that public wireless networks are completely protected from opportunistic ID thieves.
For five more tips on how to protect your identity, be sure to check out our full Online Safety Checklist to see if your Internet habits could be putting you at risk.
For some additional peace of mind, one of the best ways to protect your identity is to use a credit monitoring service. While they can't guarantee complete identity protection, they can alert you to certain kinds of activity that may indicate fraud, giving you the drop on possible ID thieves.