October 20, 2015

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How To Help Prevent Identity Theft: Staying Connected & Secure in the Digital Age

We are living in such an exciting time for technology, but it can also be incredibly confusing with the mixed messages reported every day. How often do you watch or read a story about the latest technological advance, only to hear about some type of data breach or identity theft issue only a few minutes later? Many of us fight the internal battle of wanting to stay up-to-date with the newest electronic devices, but also keeping our personal information safe.

…but is that even possible? Can we remain secure and connected?

The U.S. government says yes — but it takes a lot of effort on our part, too.

Put in the Extra Effort During National Cyber Security Awareness Month

October is National Cyber Security Awareness Month and it was established by President Obama to educate the public about cyber security and increase our nation’s resiliency in the event of a cyber-related incident. The theme of this week — October 19-23, 2015 — is “Your Evolving Digital Life.” The Department of Homeland Security wants us to understand the “smart world” we live in and how important it is for all citizens to understand the importance of cybersecurity as more of our world becomes connected to the Internet.

A main topic of discussion has been the “Internet of Things,” which is the network of objects (things) that are able to collect and exchange data. The concept is built on the idea of cloud computing and everything being connected, mobile, and virtual. For example, baby monitors that are connected to the Internet and cars that can sense weather or traffic hazards.

It is thrilling and terrifying all at the same time — Wired calls it a “huge and fundamental shift” in which we are able to start making things intelligent. It’s not clear how the technology will advance and at what speed, but as consumers, we need to be aware of basic ways we can protect ourselves and help prevent identity theft.

Ways to Help Prevent Identity Theft

It’s easy to say you want to try to keep your personal information safe, but do you actually know how you can help to prevent id theft in an ever-connected world? On an individual level, there are some basic things you can do to stay one step ahead of identity thieves:

  • Change passwords regularly – It may seem easier to have one basic password for all your online accounts, but being lazy with passwords makes you much more susceptible to identity theft. Symantec, the well-known antivirus company, recommends changing your passwords every three months. Create strong passwords by avoiding obvious words or names (like your pet’s name or the name of the street that you live on), choose at least six characters and combine upper/lower case letters, numbers, and symbols if allowed.
  • Limit sharing on social media – Criminals know that some people can’t help but “overshare” on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram — and they make a living off of that shared personal information. Excited about your upcoming vacation and want to tell everyone on Facebook? You may have just told strangers that your house will be empty for a week and a prime target for robbery. Even with strong privacy settings, identity thieves still often find ways to track down your full name, date of birth, hometown, and names of your family members. Don’t share any unnecessary information, or you may find your identity stolen.
  • Check credit and bank transactions often – Many financial institutions are good about alerting customers to possible identity theft, but you cannot rely on them to keep your money 100% safe. Check those balances often and make sure that every transaction listed is one you remember making. Identity thieves can move quickly when they have your financial information, so it is essential that you stay on top of things and contact your bank or credit card company the second you see something that is out of place. Most will refund your money, cancel your card or account, and stop the thief dead in their tracks before any more damage is done.
  • Be aware of the people around you – Think about how often you pull out your smartphone in public: when you’re standing in line at the grocery store, if your dining companion leaves the table for a moment at a restaurant, or you’re stuck waiting at the DMV. Have you ever stopped to consider the people around you who may be looking over your shoulder? They can spot personal information on your phone, write it down, and leave before you even know what happened. Same idea goes for using public computers at places like the library or school. It’s OK to use these electronic devices in public, just make sure that you’re aware of your surroundings.
  • Keep your smartphones updated – It’s easy to ignore those annoying software updates on your phone, but regular updates can play a critical role in keeping your information safe. By running the latest version of software available for your phone, you will also have the most up-to-date security and protection from hackers looking for vulnerabilities.

By taking these actions, you are also taking huge steps toward protecting your identity. However, it is important to remember that as the Internet’s part in our world grows, we will have to be more and more vigilant. For every technological advance that allegedly makes our lives easier, there will always be identity thieves trailing close behind.

Judy Leary

President at IdentityForce
For Judy, identity theft protection is in her DNA—her dad started IdentityForce’s parent company in the 70s, and in the 80s, she and her brother came on board. She loves her dedicated team and how much they care about every member, partner, and supplier. In addition to protection against identity theft, Judy is passionate about travel (Aruba is her “happy place”!) and giving back. She volunteers for the Alzheimer’s Association, Mazie Mentoring Program, and Sunshine Golden Retriever Rescue. She’s also a proud mom to 2 grown daughters and 3 rescue dogs.

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