Life is all about trade-offs. In this digital age we are often asked to trade personal and private information in exchange for the convenience of doing business and otherwise conducting our lives on-line. And that’s a swell deal – until your information gets stolen and you’re left exposed to every hacker and scammer on the planet.
It may not be possible to completely eliminate the threat of digital identity theft, but you can take steps to reduce your risk. Here are 13 ways to up your cyber security, courtesy of Consumer Reports.
Check your status. Has your personal data already been lost in a data breach? Go to haveibeenpwned.com to find out. Enter your email address and username to find out if you were compromised during any of the 120 breaches listed on the site. If your data was compromised immediately go to the site(s) of the breach and change your password.
Watch those wi-fi networks. Be mindful how many networks you allow your phone or laptop to join automatically. Public wi-fi networks can be easily mimicked by scammers to gain access to your device. Occasionally go through your network listings and delete any network you don’t trust and use regularly.
Use a six-digit PIN. A four-digit PIN allows for just 10,000 possible combinations – child’s play for a hacker. A six-digit PIN allows for 1 million possible codes. That will dramatically slow down an evildoer and perhaps convince him to pursue an easier four-digit target.
Use Automatic Updates. Running the latest version of your software is critical to your security. The updates close holes discovered by hackers since the last update. So, when your computer asks if you want to update now, the answer is always “yes.”
When in doubt, shred it. Shred every document that includes your social security number, birth date, a credit card number, bank account numbers and/or medical insurance numbers.
Look at your cellphone bill. If you are on a flat rate, make sure you are billed the same amount every month. If you see a discrepancy, call and investigate.
Eliminate credit card offers. Credit card applications can be stolen from the mail and filled out by thieves who can wreak havoc on your credit before you realize what’s happened. Stop such mailings by registering at optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-567-8688.
Use a temporary email address. The website 10minutemail.com gives you a fully functional email address that expires 10 minutes after you create it. This is a great way to eliminate the security risk of registering for unfamiliar websites and avoid the spam that often comes with signing on to a site or service.
Check your kids’ credit. Seriously. Identity thieves have aggressively targeted minors in recent years. Run a credit check on your children when they are 14 or 15. This will allow you time to clear up any ID theft issues before the young one heads to college or applies for credit.
Cover the cam. Ick. Hackers can actually gain access to your computer’s webcam and watch you and your family. The best fix for this is low-tech. Cover the webcam lens with electrical tape or a Post-It Note when it’s not in use. You know who does exactly that? Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and FBI Director James Comey.
Baby monitor, too. Hackers can break into wifi-connected baby cameras and monitors to eavesdrop on your home or even talk to your kids (!!!). Prevent this by replacing the default settings with a unique username and password. Turning the device off when not in use will make it harder for hackers to discover it.
Use phony info. Many interactive toys require all sorts of personal data to register the product for use. This info will be used to market more products to you and your kids. So, give made-up info on the registration screens when they ask for stuff like your home address and phone number.
Let the dead rest in peace. Identity theft affects 2.5 million estates every year. When a loved one passes, send a copy of the death certificate to the IRS, cancel their driver’s license, and notify the relevant banks, credit bureaus and insurance companies.