The convenience and speed of these services are wonderful and make everyday life a lot easier for most of us. At the same time, there are a number of drawbacks to being connected all the time. The convenience the internet has offered us is the same convenience it offers identity thieves, and these criminals are exploiting it to the best of their ability.
Leaving your computer unprotected and not taking safety precautions online is akin to leaving your home unlocked with a sign outside that says, “Take it all!” Don’t fall into that trap. Instead, protect yourself from fraud and online identity theft by following these simple steps:
- Be wary of emails and pop-ups that request information: It’s one thing to add your personal information to a website you are signing up for or shopping on. It’s an entirely different story when you offer up your information to a message, pop-up or email that requests it. Be wary of requests for usernames, passwords, birthdays, Social Security numbers (SSN), bank account numbers and credit card numbers. Fraudulent emails often request that you “verify” your information by emailing it or re-entering it. Today, most websites simply email you a link to verify your information.
- Don’t respond to suspicious emails: It’s not uncommon for email addresses to be hacked. If you ever get an email from someone you know that sounds nothing like them — requesting large sums of money, for example — verify the authenticity of the email before taking action. Call up your friend, if you can. Never click on links in such emails, wire money or send sensitive information like your address.
- Keep anti-virus software, firewalls and operating systems updated: Never skip important updates for your operating system (like Windows, or iOS), and always make sure that your anti-virus protection is current. These updates help protect your computer and devices from the most recent cyber threats. Avoiding updates leaves you vulnerable.
- Use unique passwords: Every password you use should be different from the last. It should also be complex. Avoid common words and phrases. Never use your name or birthday in a password. Random combinations of numbers and letters tend to be the most safe.
- Limit what you share online: Zack Whittaker, a writer for ZDNet, with only the most amateur of hacking skills — that is, by using Google — was able to collect a startling amount of information about a colleague, using only his first name and employer. After only a few days he uncovered the man’s home address, date of birth, date of wedding anniversary, child’s birthday, email address, cell phone number, employment status and history and might have even gotten his hands on a SSN, had he kept at it. Whittaker’s experiment shows how much information about us can be found online, with only a little digging. It’s important not to add to that bank of information if you can help it. Never share sensitive data on social media.
Identity theft can easily wreak havoc on your life if you’re not careful. It’s important to decrease your risk as much as possible through safe online practices.