Of course, there’s a risk in handing over sensitive data. Identity theft is on the rise — the Federal Trade Commission received more than 1.1 million reports of it in 2022 alone. And the total number of data breaches has more than tripled, according to a 2022 report from Verizon.
The good news is, there are steps you can take to help protect your personal information. Some of these you’ll only need to do once, others are a habit that you’ll get the hang of with time.
Let’s take a closer look.
1. Use Strong Passwords
One of the most basic ways to protect yourself online is to use a unique password for each of your accounts — email, social media, mobile banking, you name it. Aim for passwords that are simple for you to remember but difficult for others to guess.
To create a strong password, keep the following tips in mind:
• Use a combination of upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers.
• Longer is usually better — aim for a password that’s at least six characters long.
• Never use personal information like your name, birthday, or email address.
• Random passwords are usually difficult for hackers to crack. Use a password generator if you need help.
2. Turn On Two-Factor Authentication
Take advantage of two-factor authentication (2FA) when possible. 2FA involves using one authentication method plus your username and password. Examples of 2FA include sending a numerical code to your phone or email, using fingerprint ID, or identifying you via facial recognition.
Certain accounts add an extra layer of protection by using authenticator apps like Google Authenticator, Authy, or Microsoft Authenticator. Typically, these apps generate a verification passcode, which you’ll need to enter when you log in.
3. Always Use a Secure Connection
There were concerns in the not-so-distant past about using a public wifi network to get online, as it could make your information vulnerable to hackers. But today, connecting through a public network is usually considered safe. That’s because most websites protect data through encryption, a process that involves scrambling information so it can only be deciphered using a unique encryption key.
To make sure your connection is encrypted, look for either a lock symbol or “https” to the left of the URL in a browser.
4. Know the Signs of a Phishing Scam
Phishing is the oldest trick in the book. Unfortunately, it also happens to be fairly successful.
Phishing emails and text messages can take many different forms: a link to confirm financial information, an alert about suspicious activity or log-in attempts on one of your accounts, an invoice you don’t recognize, a coupon for a free prize.
One effective way to help prevent falling for these scams? Be cautious about emails that have an attachment or embedded link, and don’t click or download anything from a source you don’t recognize. Keep in mind that legitimate companies usually won’t send you a link to change or update your payment information. If you’re not sure whether a message is authentic, you can call the company directly to confirm.
5. Check Your Credit Report
Checking your credit report regularly is a simple way to help protect your identity and financial security. You can request a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, and Transunion, by visiting AnnualCreditReport.com . It will detail all the information about your financial history, including credit card debt, student loans, missed payments and more.
When you receive your credit report, make sure all of the information is accurate. If you notice anything that is incorrect, report it to the credit bureaus and dispute any inaccurate information.
6. Monitor Your Credit Card and Bank Accounts
Keeping tabs on your credit card and bank accounts doesn’t just help with tracking your spending. It’s also a good way to spot mysterious charges.
Sometimes, a scammer will start with a small, unassuming charge and then quickly escalate their spending when they feel that a person isn’t paying attention. Look for strange names and keep tabs on every purchase, no matter how small.
7. Make Social Media Profiles Private
At first glance, this might seem like an unnecessary step. After all, if someone has your social security and your address, what more do they need? But strengthening your privacy settings on your social media accounts can go a long way to protecting your data in the future. Hackers can use photos, comments, and more to learn about you, which could make it easier for them to break into your accounts.
8. Tap Into Online Tools for Help
As data security becomes more important, the government is getting involved. If you think, or know, that your identity has been stolen, you can visit Identity Theft , the Federal Trade Commission’s website dedicated to cyber security protection. There are resources to help you troubleshoot ongoing issues, create a plan to protect your identity, report identity theft, and more.
9. Update Software
Yes, updating apps, web browsers, and operating systems takes time and may temporarily disrupt your work. But the reward — protecting your data — is worth the few extra minutes. Many times, software updates include new features or improved security.
Set updates to happen automatically so you always have the latest and greatest version.
10. If Your Identity Has Been Stolen, Consider Placing a Credit Freeze on Your Files
By placing a credit freeze or security freeze on your files, you can prevent a potential hacker from opening a new account in your name. The freeze restricts access to your credit report, which makes it difficult for a cyber criminal to open up any accounts.
Freezing your credit does not affect your credit score. However, as long as the freeze is in place, you won’t be able to open any new accounts in your name. If you’re planning to rent an apartment, apply for a job, or buy insurance, you’ll likely need to temporarily lift the freeze for a certain amount of time or for a specific party.
Check with the credit reporting company in advance to find out the costs and lead times. The process is daily involved, as you’ll have to request a credit freeze with all three agencies.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that a credit freeze doesn’t prevent a hacker from adding charges to your existing accounts
11. Consider Placing a Fraud Alert on Your File If You Suspect Identity Theft
This is a much easier option than placing a full credit freeze, as it only requires creditors to confirm your identity instead of freezing all your credit in the future. It may be a good step to take if you are concerned that someone might have been able to access your personal data but lack proof
Data breaches and identity theft happen, but by taking some simple precautions, you can help keep your personal information from falling into the wrong hands.
Cybercrime isn’t just disruptive, it can also be expensive. That’s why SoFi has partnered with Blink by Chubb to help protect your finances with cyber insurance. Apply in just minutes and get your quote.
Photo credit: iStock/ozgurcankaya
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Financial Tips & Strategies: The tips provided on this website are of a general nature and do not take into account your specific objectives, financial situation, and needs. You should always consider their appropriateness given your own circumstances.