Identity theft has touched all of us in one way or another. In 2019, 14.4 million people were victims of identity theft.1 Identity theft can happen in a number of ways: in-person, online, over email or on the phone. However it occurs, identity theft affects a large number of people per year.
Being in the advisory business, and serving hundreds of clients, we see these unfortunate scenarios too often.
Let’s run through a few tips on how you can protect your identity and sensitive information online and in-person.
Tip #1: Don’t Assume You Are Protected
No matter how careful you are with your personal information, never assume that you are immune to identity theft. According to a recent report, 47% of Americans experienced financial identity theft in 2020.2 That’s nearly half of all adults, and that only includes the cases of identity theft that were properly reported. There could be other cases that were either never reported or never even discovered.
There is so much data in today’s world that it’s impossible to keep yourself completely safe, but by understanding the risk of fraud, you can grasp how important it is to follow these and other cybersecurity tips.
Tip #2: Use a VPN When Using Wi-Fi to Increase Data Protection
A virtual private network (or VPN) can help keep you safe when you’re browsing the web on Wi-Fi. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your computer and the VPN server, meaning that all your internet usage is routed through this connection.
Most VPN servers actually have multiple layers of encryption to help keep you and your information safe. Signing up for a VPN is easy and you can set one up on both your mobile device and your computer. Check out these comprehensive instructions from The Verge, a popular technology publication.
VPNs also mask your IP address (which indicates where you are located and provides information about your computer) and personal information.
Tip #3: Don’t Share Your Passwords or Use the Same Password for Multiple Sites
Hopefully this tip is common sense, but don’t share your passwords with others, especially people you don’t know. If you do need to share your password, use a password management site like Keeper or LastPass that allows you to share a record with someone without showing them the actual password. Or, change your password right after sharing it with someone.
In addition to not sharing your password with others, don’t use the same password for multiple sites, especially if it contains identifying information such as your address, children’s names or pet names, etc.
A strong password is long, contains a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, contains numbers and symbols, has no ties to your personal information, and doesn’t contain any dictionary words.
Tip #4: Sign Up for 2-Factor Authentication
I know this can seem like a pain, but in addition to creating a strong password, always sign up for two-factor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication (or 2FA) is an extra layer of protection for your login info. It usually requires you to sign in with your password and then use a second method to verify it’s you.
For example, Google can send a unique code to your phone number or backup email address to confirm it’s really you trying to sign in.
Tip #5: Be Careful About How Much Personal Information You Share on Social Media
In today’s world of posting everything from pictures of your grandkids to what you had for lunch on social media, it’s important to be aware of what personal information you are sharing online.
Hackers can easily get information from your Facebook or Instagram profile and use it to hack into your other accounts. Never share your address, phone number, photos of personal IDs (passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, etc.) or full date of birth on social media.
We live in a very connected world, and it’s more important than ever to protect your information and your family’s information. Staying safe online and practicing these tips will help prevent you from falling victim to increasing identity theft scams.