Identity theft is a huge problem around the world. In 2017 alone, there were 1,579 data breaches, leading to nearly 179 million records getting exposed. You want to make sure you aren’t a part of that statistic, so here are five tips to keep your identity safe online.
Smartphones can basically do everything a computer can do nowadays, but that doesn’t mean they are as protected against threats just like your desktop is. Most phones aren’t equipped with the anti-virus software that you have on your computer, so it’s easier for criminals to get malware on your mobile device that could help them steal information you enter. The shortened URLs that are often used because they’re more phone-friendly can also trick you into visiting a risky site since it’s harder to tell whether it’s secure or trusted. There’s also the risk of your phone being stolen, so make sure it’s password protected so any information you may have stored on it isn’t easily accessed.
Anytime you enter personal information using a public network, you’re setting yourself up for identity theft. Most Wi-Fi hotspots don’t encrypt your data, so any hacker at your neighborhood Starbucks or wherever you’re sharing Wi-Fi can basically just pluck your identity out of the air if he has the right software. This applies to cell phones, too, since you’re often using nearby Wi-Fi. Be aware when you’re using a hotspot that any information you send through the Internet could be picked up by strangers; if it’s information that could make you vulnerable, wait until you get home to your protected network. It may be less convenient, but it’s much safer.
The Internet has a thousand different acronyms and it’s impossible for those who aren’t tech savvy to keep track of them all. One you really need to know if you’re going to make online purchases, though, is HTTPS. The added “S” means that the way your information is being sent is secure. HTTPS using SSL, or Secure Sockets Layer, which encrypts the information flying through the wires so that only the intended recipient can see it. If you’re considering buying from a site whose URL starts with HTTP, be careful with the information you share. Other signs of a secure site are a closed lock or unbroken key at the bottom of the screen.
Instead, type out the address in your browser to make sure you’re going to the site you think you’re visiting. Many phishing scams involve emails from what seem like legitimate sites — banks, online stores, anything you might trust — and then send you to a phony site where they can gather your information to steal your identity. If you get an email from a site where you’ve shopped before, make sure you don’t follow the links and don’t provide any financial or personal information the email requests. Real sites won’t ask for important information over email. If you have any doubts about an email’s authenticity, go to the company’s website and get in contact with them.
Each new version of your Internet browser, especially if you use one of the more popular browsers, gets a boost in security. Older browsers, besides not working as well with some websites, often have holes in their security that hackers have discovered and can exploit. The same goes for your operating system and anti-virus software. Updates will keep you ahead of would-be identity thieves and keep your credit safe.