Don’t Make Yourself a Target
The recent Target security breach might make you question the security of your identity online. Guest author Dan Wesley shares his insight on how to keep your personal information private on the web.
Target’s recent data breach created an unfortunate double meaning for the retailer, leaving 40 million customers with their credit card data exposed.
Although Target may be the most recent example of a massive data breach, it’s far from the first. In 2012, 7% — or 16.6 million — of Americans were victims of some form of identity theft. And, according to the Bureau of Justice, 77% of frauds in 2012 involved the use of existing account information from banks or credit cards.
In light of a rising hacker community and an increasingly vulnerable goldmine of private information, it’s time for consumers to take a hard look at the information they’re unknowingly giving away every day. Whether it’s the simple purchase of a tube of toothpaste or a video download, many consumers are leaving small gaps in their security that could spell big trouble for their finances.
6 Everyday Habits Putting You at Risk
Below are 6 small — yet dangerous — bad habits consumers fall into both online and offline, leaving identity information ripe for a hacker’s picking. Here’s what you’re doing wrong and what you can do to counter the risk:
Sharing identity information on social media sites. Sharing facts such as your birthday, street address, and phone number make a hacker’s job much easier. If you do share any of this information, make sure your security and privacy settings are strictly limited.
Using the same password for multiple sites. Having the same password for your primary email account or online banking profile as another, less secure site puts your information at risk. Use strong passwords, and create different ones for different websites. The most sensitive accounts, such as your banking and primary email, should use the most secure and hard-to-crack passwords.
Not checking URLs. Whenever you enter a site using a password, verify that the URL you’ve been directed to is what you expect it to be. It could be as simple as a one-letter difference. Beware: if the URL is redirecting you, it could mean you’re getting phished somewhere insecure.
Not using (or updating) security software. Leaving your computer vulnerable to viruses and security threats is just asking for it. Think about how many times a day you input personal information into your computer. Always double-check that your computer’s security software is up-to-date and scanning regularly.
Throwing away sensitive documents. Sending your personal information out with the trash or recycling is a surefire invitation for identity theft. Keep all tax and banking documents secure, and when you need to dispose of them, use a shredder.
Ignoring your bank account. Make sure you regularly check your account so you can catch suspicious transactions as soon as possible. Pull your credit report every year as well, and check it to make sure there’s nothing unexpected on it. Investigate anything that strikes you as odd, even if you haven’t noticed any obvious repercussions yet.
What to Do if You Get Hacked
In light of a rising hacker community and an increasingly vulnerable goldmine of private information, it’s time for consumers to take a hard look at the information they’re unknowingly giving away every day.
Avoiding the bad habits listed above should keep you protected, but if you do find yourself a victim of identity theft, protect yourself immediately by following these steps:
Report the suspicious activity to the institutions where your information was compromised immediately. Cancel any active cards and request new ones, as well as new account numbers if necessary.
If it was a cyber breach, have your security software scan all your devices, and if you think it might not be working, have a professional IT person check it for you. After that, change all the passwords associated with the compromised accounts.
Contact the police and report the incident. They will be able to provide further guidance on actions you should take to protect yourself.
Unfortunately, Target’s data breach is neither the first nor the last of consumers’ identity theft woes. Just remember:
The main reason private information is vulnerable is not necessarily because hackers are so great at what they do — it’s because consumers often leave gaping holes in their security. Taking the precautions above will help shield your personal and financial information, allowing you to coast the web and shopping aisles without worrying about getting hacked.
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Dan Wesley is the founder and president of CreditLoan.com.