How to Protect Your Privacy and Avoid Identity Theft

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The odds of becoming the victim of identity theft in the United States is one in fifteen. Cyber criminals continue to enhance their skills, seeking new, increasingly clever and technologically advanced ways to access personal financial information. As quickly as technology improves, so do the risks of identity theft. That’s why it’s important to be proactive and protect yourself and your finances from cybercrime. Here’s a look at some steps you can take to improve your odds.

Value your personal information

One of the most significant personal information security issues is how we decide to use and share our information. Sharing names, phone numbers, addresses, emails and even credit card numbers over a cellphone in a public area or online has become commonplace, barely an afterthought. It’s important to understand that every interaction we have could be a potential avenue to our personal information. The biggest enemy to protecting personal information is often complacency or disregard for the value of our information. Phishing, vishing, smishing scams and confidence schemes often rely on engaging with a scam directly. It’s important to understand that in some instances, willingly providing your information or credentials could leave you liable for the financial loss.

All of your personal information has value and can even be sold on the dark web. Taking personal responsibility for the security of your personal information and treating your personal information as valuable is your first line of defense against identity theft.

Protect your privacy on social media

Minimizing how much sensitive data you share online is a good front-line defense against fraud and identity theft. Social media can be a key access point for personal information including: current or past info on where you live or work, names of family, friends, or pets, and any number of data points that are commonly used for security questions. You may even share your contact info publicly which may allow imposters to contact you claiming to be your bank, a charity or the government—opening new opportunities for scammers to trick you into sharing sensitive information. Ultimately, many people can be overly forthcoming with personal information over social media. Take the time to ensure that your privacy settings are up to date, delete unused social media profiles, and strongly consider which details to share about yourself online.

Adjust your browser settings

You can also enhance your privacy online by adjusting browser settings. One way to gain greater privacy is by browsing in incognito or private mode. This can be done on laptops, tablets and even mobile cellphone devices anytime you’re using an internet browser. Private browsing prevents your browser from storing data about your web activity. While browsing incognito or in private mode doesn’t hide your activity from your internet service provider, or your employer when on a business-owned network, and will not prevent malware from tracking your activity. However, in the event that your physical device is stolen or hacked, a criminal will not be able to access data through your browser.

how to protect your privacy and avoid identity theft_Man working with his son on laptop

Use a virtual private network (VPN)

Those seeking a higher level of online privacy and anonymity should consider using a VPN. This creates a private network from a public internet connection. As opposed to using the internet from a single, more trackable IP address, the person’s IP addresses are constantly changing by using different servers. This makes tracking people and gathering an increasing amount of data about them extremely difficult. It also provides other important benefits.

A VPN is a significant improvement in privacy over any public network. It provides an encrypted conduit to connect to the internet while protecting your identity and data. It hides where your mobile or other internet connected device is located while accessing the internet. Utilizing a VPN when accessing the internet hides your internal protocol address (IP address), blocks identification of the person’s location and even their browsers history. This allows sharing information on any public network more private and secure.

There are hundreds of VPNs available to choose from. Finding the right VPN for you starts by identifying your needs and the qualities of the VPNs you are considering. Make sure the VPN is compatible with all of your devices and that it has a user-friendly interface. One final note on using VPNs: some secure sites such as your financial institution may have automated security precautions that block traffic outside of the U.S.—when adding a VPN for security, keep it set in the U.S. to avoid potential blocks on highly-secure websites.

Avoid unsolicited and suspicious links

Far too many identity theft issues, online fraud cases and financial security risks online are initiated from an action by the victim. Phishing links through email is a common culprit. These links can lead to unintentionally installing malware or seemingly legitimate sites collecting personal info or login credentials. Many of these emails may appear authentic, but before clicking on any link or submitting personal information online, use the contact info that you have on file, or research the source of the email via your preferred search engine and ensure that you use the contact info provided by an official secure website.

Consider mobile device security

Keeping your mobile device secure starts with adding timed lock codes, biometrics and strong passwords to connected apps. Only connect to a secure WI-FI or VPN when possible and be cautious when downloading content to your phone. You can also add an anti-virus app to your phone for increased security. Finally, many security issues are corrected by the most current operating systems. Always make sure you are using the latest OS available.

More ways to secure your identity

OnPoint diligently protects the information and financial data of our members and encourages members to also take steps on their own to protect themselves from fraud, identity theft and other cybersecurity threats. Online security benefits us all and is well worth the time, focus, and effort to maximize and make the most of it. For even more ways to protect yourself from fraud, identity theft and financial loss, download The OnPoint Guide to Personal Cybersecurity.

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