Here are six things you should do to help keep your personal information safe and secure.
Use a VPN on public networks.
You may not know this, but the public wifi hotspots we now find everywhere are not always safe. There are many ways that hackers can exploit these public networks to access your device and personal information. The best way to keep your data safe while on public hotspots is by using a virtual private network (VPN). There are a number of different services with a wide range of features, so look for the best fit for your devices and personal situation.
Encrypt your data.
There are many tools available that encrypt – or scramble – the data you send over the internet. Most websites now use a secure protocol to send and receive information, but you should always make sure your web browser’s padlock icon is in the locked position when submitting personal information.
Remember that email is typically not secure, and you should never send sensitive information that way. There are, however, encrypted email providers and services that work with your existing software to protect information.
Be mindful of impostors.
Be sure you know exactly who is getting your financial and personal information. Do not give out any information – whether through phone, mail or online – unless you are the one that initiated contact. Hackers have developed very clever ways of tricking you into revealing information. If you receive an email from asking for personal or account information, do not click on the link in the email even if it is from a company with which you do business. Instead, go directly to the company’s website and log into your account there. Similarly, if you receive a phone call from a company that asks for your information, get the company’s phone number online or from a trusted source like account statements and call them back.
Destroy personal information.
Before you sell, throw away or donate your old computer, tablet or smartphone, make sure all personal information that was stored has been completely removed.
For computers, you can use a ‘wiping’ program that overwrites the data on the hard drive. These utilities are readily available online, and are generally inexpensive or even free. Consider using a tool that wipes the drive many times so that remnant data cannot be retrieved. Another option is to physically destroy the hard drive by beating the drive’s platter with a hammer.
Most of today’s mobile devices come with features that permanently delete stored information. Check the service provider or manufacturer’s website for instructions on how to do this.
Use strong passwords and keep them private.
You should use good passwords for all of your accounts and accounts, and use unique ones for each login. You can make them more complicated by substituting numbers for words or letters. You can also use “passphrases” if the login allows for them. There are also secure apps and software tools that will generate and store random passwords for your accounts.
Be mindful of what you are sharing on social media.
It goes without saying that you should never reveal sensitive information on social networks, but be careful about posting seemingly trivial information that a clever charlatan could use. An identity thief can mine the information you post about yourself on social media, and use it to answer the security questions that many companies use to verify identity.