We store huge amounts of personal information on our computers, smartphones, and tablets, as well as in our online accounts. This wealth of saved information can make our devices and accounts ideal targets for would-be cybercriminals.
Unless you take steps to protect this information, hackers can use viruses, malware, and other tools to steal it. Unfortunately, identity theft is a growing problem in our increasingly digital world, and it can have a devastating impact on your financial health.
Thankfully, there are simple steps you can take to keep your information safe and strengthen your personal online security. Begin with these practical tips.
1.) Keep Your Devices Updated
Computers, smartphones, and other devices come out with frequent system updates to fix vulnerabilities and protect against new security issues they have identified. In the same way, software and app updates patch up security gaps to help keep your devices protected.
Putting off updates can leave your devices vulnerable to viruses, malware, and other forms of cyberattack. For this reason, it’s a good idea to enable automatic updates.
Allowing automatic updates for your software, apps, web browsers, and operating systems will help keep your devices — and your personal information — secure.
2.) Install Anti-Malware and Antivirus Software
If you don’t already have antivirus and anti-malware software on your devices, it’s time to add them. These programs help secure your identity from hackers using viruses, malware, bots, and more to attempt to steal your personal information from your computer, smartphone, and other devices.
If you’re not familiar with malware, it is a type of software that hackers install on your computer to steal your sensitive information (including bank account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers, and credit card numbers). Malware can also damage your devices and keep them from working properly.
Both free and paid versions of anti-malware and antivirus software are available. A paid version typically offers better quality protection than free ones do, but a free version is better than nothing.
As with other software programs and apps, it’s important to keep your antivirus software updated. Always set it to automatically install updates to avoid exposure through security gaps.
It’s also a good idea to set your antivirus software subscription to automatically renew each year to avoid a pause in service.
3.) Use Strong Passwords and Update Them Regularly
Passwords that are too simple or easy to guess can be compromised and leave you vulnerable to identity theft. For stronger passwords:
- Avoid short passwords. Opt for ones that are at least six digits long
- Don’t use passwords that are common or easy to figure out (such as “12345”)
- Avoid using passwords that include personal information that can be easily guessed or found online (pet names, birthdays, street address)
- Always include at least one symbol, number, and upper and lowercase letter in each password
- Never use the same password for multiple accounts. Instead, create a unique password for each account or website you visit
- If you have an account with a company that experiences a data breach, change your password immediately
- Change your passwords often
Using different passwords for each account and changing them often can make it difficult to remember them all, so make sure to keep track of your passwords using a safe method.
The simplest way to do this is also the most old-fashioned way — writing your passwords down on a piece of paper kept in a safe place that only you have access to (i.e., a home safe, locked drawer, or similar safe storage place).
But if you want something higher-tech, consider using a password manager to create strong passwords and keep track of them for you. That way, the only password you’ll have to remember is the one for your password manager.
4.) Set Up Two-Factor Authentication
Setting up two-factor authentication on all websites and apps that offer it is another relatively easy way to help keep your accounts and personal information safe. Two-factor authentication requires you to confirm your identity in two ways — typically using your password plus an additional passcode that is sent to you in an email or text message.
Using multiple forms of authentication makes it harder for hackers to get into your accounts, improving the quality of protection for your personal information.
5.) Use a VPN on Public WiFi
When you connect to public WiFi, you run the risk of exposing your information to hackers. Public WiFi connections are often not secure, and can leave you vulnerable.
If you need to use public WiFi, consider encrypting your information with a VPN app to protect your data. A VPN, or virtual private network, encrypts your internet traffic and routes it through the VPN’s own server. This prevents anyone (even the owner of the WiFi network) from being able to view your data. A VPN can also hide your IP address from advertisers and trackers.
6.) Routinely Clear Your Cache
Your cache includes saved cookies, searches, web history, and more on your internet browser. These things have the potential to lead would-be hackers to your personal information, including your home address, phone number, family information, and more.
To help keep that sensitive information safe, delete cookies and clear your browser history on a regular basis. You can do this easily in your browser settings, typically under the privacy/security section.
7.) Don’t Click on Suspicious LinksKeep an eye out for suspicious links and emails. Clicking on suspicious links in emails, social media posts, instant messages, and more can expose you to viruses or malware.
This is often easier said than done, however: it can be difficult to know if an email or link are legitimate or not, especially if your digital literacy skills are weak. To begin with, look for emails with significant typos or email addresses you don’t recognize, as well as emails or social media posts that are out of character for the person who sent them.
Never click links in emails or text messages from sources you don’t know and trust. Even then, if a message seems out of context or unlike the person sending it, take caution: their email, phone, or social media may have been hacked. Double check with the person via a different method (such as a phone call) to make sure they sent it before you click.
You can also use an online link checking site like ScanURL or URLVoid to check the legitimacy of a link.
8.) Sign Up for Identity Theft Protection With Securus
With identity theft protection from Securus, you’ll enjoy a range of identity protection features, including dark web monitoring, social media monitoring, credit monitoring, and more. Plus, all of our plans include full service identity restoration and recovery services to save you time and headaches if your identity is ever stolen.