Take Control of Your Personal Info to Help Prevent Identity Theft
Identity theft has become a fact of life during the past decade. If you are reading this, it is a safe bet that your data has been breached in at least one incident. Does that mean we are all helpless? Thankfully, no. There is a lot we can do to protect ourselves from identity theft and to make recovery from cyber incidents quicker and less painful.First, take control of your credit reports. Examine your own report at each of the "big three" bureaus. You get one free report from each credit bureau once per year. You can request them by going to AnnualCreditReport.com. Make sure there's nothing inaccurate in those reports, and file for correction if needed. You can then initiate a credit freeze at each of those credit bureaus. Instructions can be found at Krebs on Security and the Federal Trade Commission. To keep an eye on your credit report all year, space out your credit bureau requests by requesting a report from a different credit bureau every four months.
Next, practice good digital hygiene. Just as you lock your front door when you leave home and your car when you park it, make sure your digital world is secured by following the steps below.
- Keep your operating system up to date. When OS updates are released, they fix errors in the code that could let the bad guys in.
- Do the same for the application software you use. Web browsers, plug-ins, email clients, office software, anti-virus/anti-malware, and every other type of software has flaws. When those flaws are fixed, you are in a race to install that fix before someone uses the flaw against you. The vast majority of hacks leverage vulnerabilities that have a fix already available.
- Think before you click. Think before you disclose personal information in a web form or over the phone.
- Think before you share on social media sites. Some of those fun-to-share-with-your-friends quizzes and games ask questions that have disturbing similarity to "security questions" that can be used to recover your account. Do you want the answers to your security questions to be published to the world?
- Use a password manager and keep a strong, unique password for every site or service you use. That way a breach on one site won't open you up to fraud at other sites.
- Back it up. What do you do if you are hit with a ransomware attack or a disk failure? If you have a recent off-line backup your data is safe and you can recover it with ease.
- Check your account statements regularly. Paperless statements are convenient in the digital age, but it is easy to forget to check infrequently used accounts. Make a recurring calendar reminder to check every account for activity that you don't recognize.
- Manage those old-style paper statements. Don't just throw them in the trash or the recycle bin. Shred them with a cross-cut shredder or burn them. Data stolen from a dumpster is just as useful as data stolen from a website.