You’re more likely now more than ever to have your identity stolen1, either materially through discarded mail, for example, or digitally online. Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information like email, password, social security, phone number, address, etc., usually for financial gain. Common sense steps, like shredding sensitive documents, are probably already second nature, but if you haven’t already, it’s time to step up your vigilance to protect your identity when you are online.
Cybercrime: criminal hackers want to steal your identity
Smartphones, tablets and laptops-and Wi-Fi- are weaved firmly into the fabric of our lives. Most people won’t even leave the house without their devices firmly in hand, yet the way we use those devices can make us extra vulnerable to falling victim to criminal hackers. A study by Javelin Strategy & Research showed that the incidence of identity fraud increased in 2017 by 16% over the previous year, the highest rate ever recorded since the group started keeping track in 20031. A big reason for the huge growth is due to the massive amount of information that is stored online.
No doubt being able to store all this data has benefitted businesses, and in turn, all of us. But, with that comes the reality of increased risk of losing control of that data, as we’ve seen with recent data breaches in which millions of consumers’ personal information was made available to hackers. While we have little control over other trusted entities being hacked and leaking our information, there is something we can do about protecting ourselves when we are online.
Protect yourself online
In 2017, online breaches were up 44.6% over the previous year2.You may be tempted to stay off the internet altogether, or to severely limit your use of it. However studies show that while “offline consumers” have a slightly lower risk of experiencing fraud, they “take 40 more days on average to detect the fraud than their connected counterparts, and they incur higher fraud amounts.”1 So, instead of missing out on the convenient world of online banking, shopping, social networking, etc., arm yourself with these tips:
Think of a VPN, or virtual private network, as a protected tube that runs between your device and the sites you are connecting to, or as an envelope protecting the contents of your letter. The data you send is less likely to be seen, or hacked, by cyber criminals. VPNs are especially helpful if you plan to use public Wi-Fi.
Free public Wi-Fi can be a huge bonus for frequent travelers or for people who work in coffee shops or other public spaces, but it can also be an open invitation for cyber criminals to steal your data. If you must use free public Wi-Fi, here are a few pointers to make your session a little safer:
Most experts agree that you should change your passwords on accounts that don’t have two-factor authentication and on emails every 30-60 days.4 Don’t use easy to guess passwords like your initials or mother’s maiden name.
Set your privacy settings on your social media accounts so that only your trusted connections can see them.
It’s best not to share your birthday, address, phone number and other personal information on social media, and do not accept connections from people you don’t know. Also, if you see an offer in your social media feed that looks too good to be true (Free airline tickets! $1000 gift cards!) do not click on the offer. These are more than likely phishing scams designed to get you to share personal information with criminals.
Cyber criminals have gotten very good at mimicking legitimate companies or people and pretending to email you saying they need important information. Educate yourself about the different scams criminals are using, and vow not to be one of their victims. Get started with 10 Common Email & Internet Scams – How to Avoid Them.link opens in a new window
Consider an identity theft monitoring service
While no company can keep your identity from being stolen, they can monitor for signs of stolen identities and offer recovery services. You can also sign up for free yearly credit reports by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com. By monitoring your credit report regularly, you can ensure that no one has used your credentials to apply for lines of credit.
1 Identity Fraud Hits Record High with 15.4 Million U.S. Victims in 2016, Up 16 Percent According to New Javelin Strategy & Research Study. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from javelinstrategy.com/press-release/identity-fraud-hits-record-high-154-million-us-victims-2016-16-percent-according-new.link opens in a new window
2 Facts Statistics: Identity theft and cybercrime. (n.d.). Retrieved April 05, 2018, from iii.org/fact-statistic/facts-statistics-identity-theft-and-cybercrime.link opens in a new window
3 Mathews, L. (2017, January 27). What A VPN Is, And Why You Should Use It To Protect Your Privacy. Retrieved April 06, 2018, from forbes.com/sites/leemathews/2017/01/27/what-is-a-vpn-and-why-should-you-use-one/#5132cddb4b8f.link opens in a new window
4 Jones, B. (2017, September 12). How Often Do You Really Need to Change Your Passwords? Retrieved April 06, 2018, from psafe.com/en/blog/often-need-change-passwords/.link opens in a new window