Security breaches have become all too commonplace. From the recently disclosed Anthem, Inc. hack that has affected up to 80 million of the health insurers’ customers to the massive breach at Target in 2013, where 70 million customers saw their personal data exposed, we’re all at risk of becoming a victim of the next data breach.
While there is unfortunately no fool-proof way to protect yourself from having your personal data stolen, there are a number of things that you can do to lower your risk of identity theft.
1. Create stronger passwords
“123456” and “password” are not strong passwords. In fact, they topped the list of “Most Common Passwords”; if you use one of these passwords, there’s a good chance that someone could easily guess your password and access your accounts, based on the popularity of these passwords alone. These weak passwords are the lowest-hanging fruit for cybercriminals.
In order to be secure, your password should contain a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. While “Password1!” is a better password than, well, “password,” you can still do better: creating passwords that don’t read as words will reduce the likelihood of someone else figuring out your password. “s3jlgg@&0” might not be as quick to commit to memory as “password,” but will secure your accounts far better.
2. Don’t use the same password for all of your accounts
If your personal data is stolen, and you use the same password for all of your accounts – from banking to email to Facebook – you’ll have made the hacker’s day: they can easily access every place on the web where you’ve placed personal info.
This is why it’s crucial to vary your passwords. If you are using strong passwords that aren’t easy to remember, you might wonder how you’ll ever be able to keep your passwords straight. If you are intimidated by the number of different passwords you’ll need, consider using a password management software, such as LastPass. A program like this will not only securely store passwords to all of your sites, but will even help generate secure and complex passwords.
3. Always be on the lookout for phishing attempts
Cybercriminals often try to trick people into giving out their personal data through phishing attempts. These are often done via email, where a cybercriminal will send an email from a spoofed email address (that is, they pretend to have the email address of someone else). By pretending to be a trusted sender – and often following the same email formatting as the real sender would normally use in an email – the cybercriminal will have established more than enough trust from recipients to have them click links in the email that either download malware or bring them to a fake login page for their account. Once you “log in” on this fake page, you’ll have sent your personal data to the criminals.
How can you spot a phishing email? Check the actual email address that sent you the email. To do this, hit “Reply” – you should see the real email address appear in the “To:” field of your email. If it doesn’t match up to what it says it is, be wary. If you aren’t sure if an email is legitimate, don’t click on any links in the email and call the company who the email looks like it was sent from and ask for validation that they sent the email.
4. Use virtual account numbers when shopping online
When we shop online, we are actively giving out our credit card numbers. A security breach at an online retailer could leave that number exposed, putting your bank account in jeopardy.
Virtual credit card numbers are randomly generated credit card numbers that are created to only work for a certain period of time or only for transactions up to a certain dollar limit. If you were to make a purchase online today, your virtual card number could be deactivated tomorrow. If a hacker stole your virtual card number it most likely wouldn’t even be active by the time they used it. Banks like Bank of America and Citi offer virtual card numbers for their customers through their online portals.
Have you been a victim of identity theft? Have you changed the ways in which you protect your identity online? Reach out to an Expert for a no-obligation consultation