Every time you log into your email account, check your credit card balance or make an online reservation, you might be putting your sensitive personal information at risk.
If you don’t think twice about common habits like using the same passwords for multiple accounts or signing onto unsecured public Wi-Fi networks in coffee shops or airports, you could be susceptible to identity theft. Your personal information, like your name, email addresses, passwords, Social Security number, credit card numbers, medical records, passport numbers and home address, could be leaked or sold.
Data breaches are on the rise, and hackers are becoming increasingly savvy. In 2019, an estimated 165 million sensitive records were exposed through close to 15,000 breaches of private and government organizations in the U.S., according to a report from the Identity Theft Resource Center. That’s a 17% increase from 2018. Now more than ever, you must take precautions to protect your personal data from cybercriminals.
While some data breaches are out of your control, there are precautions you can take to better protect yourself. These ten simple steps will help keep your personal data safe and secure.
1. Enable Two-Factor Authentication
Whenever possible, opt-in for two-factor authentication on your accounts. This process provides an additional layer of security for your login information. When you try to gain access to your account, two-factor authentication requires you to provide another piece of data, such as entering a code sent to your mobile device, clicking a link emailed to you or answering a security question.
2. Watch Out For Phishing Emails
Phishing emails try to trick you into giving them your personal information, often by posing as a reputable company and getting you to click a link or open an attachment. Delete any emails from an unknown source that asks you to click a link or download an attachment. These messages can take you to malicious websites or infect your computer with malware. If an email appears to be from a company you have an account with, contact the company directly through a verified phone number or website – not the information in the email.
3. Beware Of Spam Calls
Remember that a real government agency, business or nonprofit organization will not call you asking for your sensitive data. If someone calls you asking for personal information, like your Social Security number or bank account number, for a special offer or prize, hang up. It is most likely a scam.
4. Protect Your Devices
Robust antivirus software can help safeguard your personal information on computers, tablets and smartphones. Keep all of your devices updated with the latest security patches and software, and secure your home Wi-Fi network with a strong password.
5. Control Your Accounts
Consider putting a credit freeze or a credit lock in place with the three credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian and TransUnion – to ensure that no one opens new accounts in your name. A credit freeze restricts access to your credit file and is free. A credit lock also blocks access to your credit file, but it may come with a monthly fee.
6. Shred Sensitive Documents
Never throw documents containing sensitive data, such as bank statements or credit card bills, in the trash. Be sure to shred documents before disposing of them.
7. Watch Out For Credit Card Skimming
Credit card skimming is a type of theft that uses a small device on an ATM or gas station pump to steal and store details from your transaction. Thieves may place skimmers over where you swipe or insert your card or use small cameras to record your PIN. Before using your credit or debit card at the ATM or gas pump, look for cameras, loose parts or anything that does not belong there.
8. Plan Ahead For Travel
Protect your private data when you’re traveling. Don’t carry your social security card with you on trips, and put a hold on your mail until you get back. Your mail may contain sensitive information, like employment history or pre-approved credit card offers, that could be used for identity fraud.
9. Check Your Reports
Regularly review copies of your credit reports and bank and credit card statements for suspicious activity. If you see items you don’t recognize, such as unfamiliar charges, collections or accounts, dispute them with the company immediately.
10. Use Strong Passwords
Create long passwords made up of words and numbers, including special characters and uppercase and lowercase letters. Don’t use your birthday, birthplace, family members’ names or other easily accessible personal information in your password. Never reuse the same password on multiple websites.
Stay vigilant and prioritize your privacy. By following these straightforward steps, you can dramatically reduce your risk of being the victim of identity theft.