Identity thieves use other people’s identity to commit crimes such as stealing, slander, or for his or her own personal or financial gain.
As one of the fastest growing crime in the U.S., identity theft cases are expected to rise in the years to come if consumers are not given proper education on how to secure themselves from these criminals.
The greatest tip for securing your computer from identity thieves is to make your password so long that by the time you type it out, you’re exhausted and you turn off your computer and go to bed.
For the rest of us who need to get stuff done online, we need to take other precautions.
But you are not a security professional, and you really don’t want to worry about these things all the time, so, here are 10 really easy and inexpensive safeguards you can take today to safely operate online.
Adjust Your Browser Settings
Most browsers have options that enable you to adjust the level of privacy and security while you browse. These can help lower the risk of malware infections reaching your computer and malicious hackers attacking your device. Some browsers even let you block cookies thus telling websites not to track your movements.
However, many of the options are disabled by default, so you could unwittingly be exposing far more than you need to each time you browse. But, it should only take a few minutes to go into your browser settings and make the necessary adjustments. Chrome, Firefox, Safari, and Edge all provide detailed instructions to help.
Enable a Firewall
A firewall acts as a barrier between your computer or network and the internet. It effectively closes the computer ports that prevent communication with your device. This protects your computer by stopping threats from entering the system and spreading between devices. It can also help prevent your data leaving your computer.
If your computer ports are open, anything coming into them could be processed. This is bad if it’s a malicious program sent by a hacker. While it’s possible to close ports manually, a firewall acts as a simple defense to close all ports. The firewall will open the ports only to trusted applications and external devices on an as-needed basis.
If your operating system comes with a firewall (e.g., Windows XP onward), you can simply enable the built-in firewall.
Create Strong Passwords
Weak passwords are an identity thief’s dream, especially if you use the same password everywhere. You need passwords that are long (over 10 characters), strong (a blend of upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols), and unique for each online account.
If you need your passwords on many devices when you are out and about, a password manager may work best. There is the risk of a data breach, but a strong master password decreases the danger. Using a password manager is much better than sticking with easy-to-guess or reusable passwords.
You probably conduct online transactions such as making purchases or bank deposits/transfers. Check that there’s a lock on your browser’s status bar before you execute a transaction. The lock indicates that your data is encrypted. Of course, many websites don’t automatically encrypt your data. The solution is data encryption software, which comes in both free and paid versions.
CertainSafe Digital Safety Deposit Box goes through a multistage security handshake that authenticates you to the site and authenticates the site to you. Your files are encrypted, split into chunks, and tokenized. Then each chunk gets stored on a different server. A hacker who breached one server would get nothing useful.
Install Security Software
Protect your computer with strong, up-to-date security software. Security software is a broad term that encompasses a suite of different types of software that deliver data and computer and network security in various forms. Security software can protect a computer from viruses, malware, unauthorized users, and other security exploits originating from the Internet. Types of security software include anti-virus software, firewall software, network security software, Internet security software, malware/spamware removal and protection software, cryptographic software, and more.
Update Your Operating System
Be sure that any operating system updates are installed. Many of the more harmful malware attacks take advantage of software vulnerabilities in operating systems and browsers. These are big programs that require regular updates to keep safe and stable. In addition to security fixes, software updates can also include new or enhanced features, or better compatibility with different devices or applications. They can also improve the stability of your software, and remove outdated features.
Freeze Your Credit
Criminals use stolen IDs to open new lines of credit. You can thwart their efforts to use your identity by simply locking (called freezing) your credit so that no new credit can be given without additional information and controls. Many states have laws giving you the right to a free credit freeze, but even where states don’t provide legal mandates, the large credit bureaus provide a voluntary security freeze program at a very low cost.
Review Your Credit Score
Check regularly to see if there are new credit cards, loans, or other transactions on your account that you are not aware of. If there are, take immediate steps to have these terminated and investigated.
Use an Identity Alert System
A service like LifeLock monitors for threats to your identity and gives you alerts by phone, text, email, or mobile app when a potential threat is detected. They will work to help you resolve any ID theft issues and will even reimburse you for funds stolen due to ID theft up to the limit of your plan.
Use a VPN
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) is an excellent way to step up your security, especially when browsing online. While using a VPN, all of your Internet traffic is encrypted and tunneled through an intermediary server in a separate location. This masks your IP, replacing it with a different one, so that your Internet Service Provider can no longer monitor your activity.
Keeping your personal data confidential may seem impossible unless you never use computers or cellphones. That’s probably not going to happen, but there are degrees of involvement and risk.
Taking some reasonable steps might mean the difference between never having your identity stolen and needing to spend hours repairing an identity theft that stripped you of thousands of dollars.