In this increasingly connected online world, the threat of having your money and identity stolen by hackers and cybercriminals is greater than ever.
In fact, according to a recent report from Javelin, identity fraud victims have increased by 8% in 2017 from the year before, netting $16.8 billion from around 16.7 million U.S. consumers. Wow!
The scary fact is this - identity thieves are constantly perfecting their craft by constantly tweaking their tactics and their elaborate traps to ensnare you. This is why you have to be extra careful nowadays with your personal information.
Couple this with the various ways tech companies and government snoops can track your online and offline activity - if you don't care that much about your privacy, it's high time you do.
Here are 6 common mistakes that put you at risk for identity theft.
1. You don't use strong and unique passwords for your online accounts
Thanks to online banking, social networking, and the cloud, much of your digital life is now online. Hackers would love to get access to any of your online accounts so they can steal the information you've uploaded.
Your password is the first line of defense against this. You want to make sure you set up a strong, unique password for every account. That way, it's hard for hackers and their computers to guess. If your password is revealed in a breach at another site, it won't give hackers access to every account you have.
Click here for a simple trick to creating a strong, easy-to-remember password. If you're feeling overwhelmed with passwords or want to create harder passwords, consider using a password manager.
A password manager is a program that can store and manage your passwords for each app, service, and site that you use. It's like a locked safe (or a vault) for all your credentials, tightly secured with your own personal key so it can be a life-saver in most situations.
2. You don't keep your software and gadgets updated with the latest patches
If you want to keep your computer safe (and get the latest features, too), it's important to install the updates as soon as you can, especially if they're aiming to fix security bugs and issues. Keep all your apps, smart appliances and even your router updated with the latest patches and firmware too.
If hackers can find a flaw in a program or operating system, they can actively use it to attack computers until it gets patched. These types of flaws are being pursued relentlessly by hackers and software developers try their best to keep up.
And perhaps the scariest type of flaw is the zero-day exploit. Zero days are flaws that hackers are already exploiting, without the software developer's knowledge. Even worse, since they're unknown, zero-day flaws often let hackers get around your security software with no input from you.
Obviously, it's important to update these programs, and any other programs you use, whenever patches are available.
3. You don't think twice before giving away your personal information
How often do you disclose your seemingly harmless information to retailers and telemarketers? Maybe you're about to check out and the cashier casually asks for your address and phone number. Do you always give in? Hey, it's just your phone number, anyway, right? What could go wrong?
Well, here's the bad news. You may not realize it but giving away your name, address, phone number and other personally identifiable information is extremely risky. With this information, identity thieves can piece together your "dossier" and build your personal profile they can use.
So it's important that you think twice and reconsider before giving away your information - any information - to anyone who asks for it. Before you hand over your details, either in person or online, please ensure and verify that it's necessary.
4. You don't check your bank statements and credit reports regularly
You get a bank statement every month, but how closely do you really look at it? Maybe you've even stopped paper statements and just glance at it online every now and then.
Unfortunately, if a thief has your credit card information, they could be making online purchases, and the only way to know is noticing something out of the ordinary on your statement. So, paying attention to each purchase can help you spot something wrong and notify your bank before it goes too far.
Just like you need to keep a close eye on your bank statement, you need to run regular checks on your credit report. This is what records any attempts to get credit, whether it's a mortgage, car loan, credit card application, and so forth.
If you spot a source of credit you don't know about, such as a credit card, it's likely that a thief has your information, or dug a pre-approved card out of your trash, and is using it. You can then take steps to close down the card and get your credit report corrected.
5. You send sensitive email and messages without encryption
Whether you're emailing or messaging, you need end-to-end encryption if you want your communications to be secure. End-to-end encryption is simply a method of scrambling your messages so that they can't be read if they're intercepted by someone other than the end user.
To put that into perspective, it helps to think of a telephone call. Imagine if you called your mother, and the sound of your voice was scrambled until it reached her on the other side of the line.
That's how end-to-end encryption works, and it prevents hackers and even governments from spying on your private conversations.
It sounds really techy, right? Well, it can be. But it can also be as simple as choosing the right app. Some messaging apps have been slammed for the lack of privacy they offer.
For your sensitive messages, consider using an app called Signal Private Messenger. Signal lets you use your existing phone number and contacts list, encrypts all of your messages and even lets you group chat with friends. For a full list of Signal features and download instructions, click here.
6. You keep oversharing your personal details on social media
We live in a generation of oversharing. People have been oversharing the details of their personal lives on reality TV shows for years.
These days, it seems everyone shares too many details on Facebook and other social media platforms. It's often innocent oversharing, like your friend who "checks in" to every restaurant so you always know what she's eating.
Unfortunately, it's easy to overshare with hackers, too. How often do you mindlessly click through buttons that say, Allow Access? If you're playing an online game or entering a contest, it's understandable. You want to win!
Stop and think about what you're doing before you give a complete stranger access to your information. Plus, NEVER post your address or other personal information on social media sites.
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