Six Ways to Protect your Personal Information

As long as you’re not living under a rock, you already know that identity theft is becoming a common occurrence.  In fact, I just read a family members Facebook post stating that someone hacked their credit card and had a shopping spree.  The responses that followed were hacker horror stories as well.  One of the worst responses said they had a debit card that got hacked and the hackers took $1000 from their account.  Luckily in all of these cases the credit(/debit) card companies refunded the fraudulent purchases, but that doesn’t always happen.  Now, more than ever it’s important to take steps to protect yourself from identity theft.  If you don’t think it can happen to you read this article where Russian hackers stole 1.2 billion user names and passwords.  I don’t know about you, but this makes me want to do everything in my power to keep them from hacking me.  Here are the six ways you can better protect your personal information.

1. Set and change passwords. – We know it’s cumbersome, but create a different and unique password for all financial and personal accounts and change your passwords several times a year.  The FTC recommends creating a hard-to-crack password by using the first letter of each word in a special phrase.  For example, “I want to travel the world” > Iw2ttw.  For stronger passwords exchange numbers for letters or words, such as 2 for to.  Also, never share your password with someone else.

2. Check accounts regularly.  Monitor your bank and credit card account activity and statements.  At least once a year review your credit card report for accounts that may have been opened in your name.

3. Protect your social security number.  This means don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or purse, because it could be stolen.  Many people think it’s a requirement, but did you know you don’t have to give your Social Security number to everyone who asks?  When someone asks for your Social Security number, all you have to do is ask why they need it, if they are required to have it, and whether they can verify your identity another way.

4. Don’t click on that link.  Scam emails asking for bank, credit card, or other financial information have been happening for years.  These emails may provide a seemingly legitimate link or ask for a simple reply to phish for information.  Never provide click on links you’re not sure of or provide sensitive information by email.

5. Don’t let apps and websites store your information.  Skip allowing online retailers, banks, and other financial related apps to store your credit card information for easy checkout.  Take the extra time ensure your information is safe.   You can also check to make sure any site with which you conduct a financial transaction has security in place to protect your information.  This can be done by looking at the web address (URL) – it should begin with https://(the “s” indicates security), not just http://.

6. Be wary of free Wi-Fi.  Numerous coffee shops and restaurants now offer free Internet access.  This may seem like a bonus, but it can actually be dangerous unless the business offers a password-protected system.  User names and passwords saved on your computer, tablet or smart phone can be more easily hacked by computer-savvy thieves when using Wi-Fi systems without password protection.