Top Tips for Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft Online
Identity theft is any kind of crime that involves your personal data, such as usernames or passwords or financial information, landing in the wrong hands. Criminals can use such information, most commonly captured by various online activities, to commit fraud. In the US alone, there are almost 9 million cases of identity theft annually and, while most of them are easily resolved, others can end up costing victims huge amounts of money.
#1. Beware of Phishing Scams
Phishing scams are among the most serious and most common online threats, and you’ll most often encounter them in unsolicited emails or on hacked websites. With this kind of scam, criminals use social engineering methods to dupe victims into giving away personal or financial information while masquerading as legitimate businesses. Fortunately, most such scams are easy to identify, especially since no real business will ever ask for such information over email.
#2. Avoid Unsecured Public WiFi
Public wireless networks might be convenient, but they’re also not safe. Larger networks in particular, such as those which are city-wide, are even less secure. After all, anyone connected to the same network can, with the right tools, intercept data being sent between your computer and the local router. Unsecured networks, which are not password-protected, are even more dangerous. If you use public WiFi for anything that involves potentially sensitive data, you should connect through a VPN.
#3. Keep Your PC Up-to-Date
Software developers and cybercriminals are locked in an everlasting war. Criminals exploit vulnerabilities in everything from your Web browser to the operating system itself, while any respectable software company works tirelessly to patch up such issues as soon as they arise. As such, you should always keep your operating system and, even more importantly, your antivirus software, up-to-date. Fortunately, most modern devices should be doing this automatically.
#4. Use Unique Passwords
The average person has dozens of online accounts, so it’s understandable that most people use the same password for the lot of them. However, this is also extremely bad for security, particularly if you’re in the habit of using the same passwords for any account that handles financial information. A responsible password policy is essential for staying safe online, and you should always use a different, complex, alphanumeric password for each account.
Staying safe online largely comes down to developing a few good habits. However, protecting your privacy online is a more than just a matter of being careful. After all, even mainstream search engines track all of your search queries and also log your IP address. Fortunately, there are ways to safeguard your anonymity, such as by using an anonymous browser, connecting to the Web through a VPN or by using a private search engine.