Given the rapid advancement of technology and the push to move as much data as possible online, it is more important than ever to ensure that your personal information is safe and secure. We would all like to think that identity theft could never happen to us. The reality is that 7% of people over 16 years of age reported having their identity stolen in 2014 alone according the most recent report from the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Fortunately, there are many steps that can be taken to help reduce your risk of falling victim to such an attack.
Step 1 – Keep sensitive information secure
This is perhaps the easiest and most often overlooked step towards protecting yourself and your information. Keep things such as social security numbers, bank account numbers/logins, and similar information away from anyone you don’t want accessing it. If it is in paper form, a locked desk drawer or a safe is the ideal place for sensitive information. If it is stored electronically, consider putting it in a password protected file that will prevent someone from viewing it even if your system is compromised.
Step 2 – Use complex passwords and update them regularly
Many of us are guilty of using the same login information for multiple sites despite knowing that it is not a wise idea. Passwords should be a minimum of 8 characters, containing a combination of upper and lowercase letters as well as numbers and symbols. Avoid using common words or numbers in sequence (i.e. Password123). Passwords should be updated at least every 6 months, and if they are recorded somewhere it should be done using the advice in Step 1 above.
Step 3 – Beware of scams
Some of the schemes currently being used can be very convincing to even the most skeptical people. Whether it is an email that seems to be coming from your bank or a phone call from someone claiming to be from the IRS demanding immediate payment or your accounts will be frozen. It is important to remember that these types of organizations would rarely ask the questions that scammers tend to ask. Why would your bank make an unsolicited call you to ask about your account number, when surely they already have that information. Likewise, the IRS will never ask you for your social security number except in a situation where you are coming to them for help and they need to identify you. Your best move is to simply ignore these attempts or, better yet, report them to the proper entities to prevent them from recurring.
With a little bit of awareness and effort, you can make it significantly more difficult for people to access your information without your consent.