10 Ways to Protect Your Identity

A Cyber Security Month Special

5 years ago, a major Consumer Magazine contained a review of identity theft protection services, which dismissed the threat. It did not take a year to know the author was wildly mistaken. We know that even credit bureaus and the Government Office of Personnel Management are not exempt from being compromised. The good news is that while much of your information may be exposed, there are ways to keep them from closing the loop easily. Become a harden target.

The headlines often focus on online identity theft, but most theft which produces monetary loss still includes old fashion offline contact so a combination of physical and online common sense precautions.

1. Use common sense physical security procedures. Do not normally store your Social Security Card and driver’s license in the same wallet. If you lose it your date of birth, address, social security card and name would be all together with your credit and debit cards.

2. Use proper permissions for social media posts. Some posts are for the world, but where you are every second of the day, current vacation status, favorite bands, hometown, and information about medical conditions.

3. Do not allow your year of birth to be visible on Facebook and other social media profiles. Date of birth is often used as a verification of identity for phone conversations with accounts.

4. Use a free credit monitoring service at a minimum some banks, for example, USAA offers this service. Check annualcreditreport.com each year to review your credit reports for inaccurate information.

5. Use complex passwords, passphrases, two-factor authentication for very important accounts, and do not use the same password for everything. A password manager can help keep track securely

6. Lock your mobile device. Smartphones contain so much of our lives. Pictures could be used for spoof social media accounts, calendars could breach important work information, and email could be used to open the door for phishing and a treasure trove of information of all types.

7. When using a public Wi-Fi, consider at a minimum a free service like https everywhere. A Virtual Private Network is worth the very small investment if you regularly utilize public Wi-Fi at libraries, colleges, restaurants, hotels or airports. Some are even free or offer free trials.

8. Pay attention to links given you by friends, on social media or in emails. Fake sites sometimes look like the real sites and ask you for information. Watch out for links such as irs.us or ussaa.com. Also, links like wellsfargo.blogspot.com should be red flags.

9. Report fake profiles of yourself on social media. It has become more common to steal public photos such as profile pictures and use public profile information to set up a fake account then invite one’s friends in order to get information from them than to actually hack an account. Hacking into your account is when someone has control of your account, which different from setting up a spoof account. Alert your friends when you see one of their accounts spoofed and ask them to do the same for you.

10. Do not be careless when you throw away expired credit and debit cards, voided checks or other sensitive information. Once a perpetrator has that information, they could look you up and obtain other information.

Taking common sense precautions such as these will help you safeguard your good name, your hard earned money, and your career. Implementing them takes only a small investment of time. For more information visit dhs.gov or staysafeonline.org.