The Federal Trade Commission just completed its annual Identity Theft Awareness Week, and it’s a good reminder for us all that we must be vigilant and protect our data. It would be a major punch to the gut to open your credit report and see a bunch of fraudulent items. Equally, it’s disheartening to log into your bank account to see your bank balances drained from unauthorized charges.
You live in a bubble if you think it can’t happen to you. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received 6,463 reports of identity theft in Jacksonville alone and over 1.4 million reports throughout the country. Government or benefits fraud, credit card fraud, loan or lease fraud, bank fraud, tax-related fraud, and phone/utilities fraud were the top reported categories for 2021. Identity theft can happen in a number of ways: in-person, online, through email, or over the phone.
While nothing is foolproof, there are some strategies to consider to protect your identity and sensitive information online and in person.
Tip #1: Don’t Assume Your Identity Will Never Get Stolen
No matter how careful you are with your personal information, never assume that you are immune to identity theft. According to a recent report, nearly 33% of Americans have experienced at least one identity theft attempt. That has cost Americans nearly $5.8 billion in wealth. That figure only includes the cases of identity theft that were reported correctly. There could be other cases that were either never reported or even discovered.
There is so much data in today’s world that it’s impossible to keep yourself completely safe. Seemingly every month, we hear about a large company that has a data breach, exposing customers' information to shysters. By realizing you are a target and understanding the risk of fraud, we hope you can grasp how important it is to take steps to try to protect yourself.
Tip #2: Use a VPN When Using Wi-Fi to Increase Data Protection
A virtual private network (or VPN) can help keep you safe when you’re browsing the web on Wi-Fi. A VPN creates an encrypted connection between your computer and the VPN server, meaning that all your internet usage is routed through this connection. Most VPN servers have multiple layers of encryption to help keep you and your information safe. Signing up for a VPN is easy, and you can set one up on both your mobile device and your computer. Check out these comprehensive instructions from The Verge, a popular technology publication.
VPNs also mask your IP address (which indicates where you are located and provides information about your computer) and personal information.
Tip #3: Don’t Share Your Passwords or Use the Same Password for Multiple Sites
Hopefully, this tip is common sense, but don’t share your passwords with others, especially people you don’t know. In addition to not sharing your password with others, don’t use the same password for multiple sites, especially if it contains identifying information such as your address, children’s names or pet names, etc. Password managers such as LastPass or Keeper are popular ways to make having multiple passwords easier, but they are not immune from issues themselves. For example, LastPass just got hacked, affecting over 30 million users' data.
A strong password is long, contains a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, contains numbers and symbols, has no ties to your personal information, and doesn’t contain any dictionary words.
Tip #4: Sign Up for 2-Factor Authentication
In addition to creating a strong password, always sign up for two-factor authentication when possible. Two-factor authentication (or 2FA) is an extra layer of protection for your login info. It usually requires you to sign in with your password and then use a second method to verify it’s you. For example, Google can send a unique code to your phone number or backup email address to confirm it’s really you trying to sign in. A lot of places will send a text message to your phone with a pin code you also need to enter. While not perfect, whenever two-factor authentication is offered, you should enable it.
Tip #5: Be Careful About How Much Personal Information You Share on Social Media
In today’s world of posting everything from pictures of your grandkids to what you had for lunch on social media, it’s important to be aware of what personal information you are sharing online. Hackers can easily get information from your Facebook or Instagram profile and use it to hack into your other accounts, and we won’t even start on who gets TikTok data. It seems obvious to say, but never share your address, phone number, photos of personal IDs (passport, driver’s license, birth certificate, etc.), or full date of birth on social media.
We live in a very connected world, and it’s more important than ever to protect your information and your family’s information. Staying safe online and practicing these tips will help prevent you from falling victim to increasing identity theft scams.
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