Five hours a day. By the end of 2016, that’s how much time U.S. users were spending on their mobile devices. Add to that the additional time spent on computers and other Internet-connected devices—video games, anyone?—and it’s clear we’re online a lot.
No matter the amount of time you’re spending online, it makes sense to be smart about how and what you’re doing there—helping protect your personal information from those who’d like nothing better than to steal your identity and cause you harm. The good news is that you can continue using your devices, but in a safer manner, without interfering with your normal online activity/routine. Here are 5 simple ways to help you protect your personal information.
1. Use passcodes for your devices
If you were to leave your smartphone in a coffee shop or taxi, would the person who found it be able to access what’s on it? That’s a scary scenario. Losing your smartphone is one thing, but giving the finder access to everything from your email and social media accounts to all the personal information you may have stored on the device could play havoc with your life. Make sure to use a passcode to help keep your apps, accounts, and personal information protected. Do the same for your laptops and even desktop computers.
2. Create strong and unique passwords for your online accounts
If you have an online account with a company that suffered a data breach, ideally, that one account is your only concern. But if you use the same login credentials on other accounts, then that single breach incident could give hackers access to your other accounts, as well. That’s why it makes sense to use a unique password for each of your online accounts.
If you’re like me and have way too many sets of online credentials to commit to memory, consider using a password manager to keep track of those many, unique passwords. There are several out there with different prices and plans, but it shouldn’t take you too long to figure out which one works best for you. Just do an Internet search for “password managers” and see what suits your needs.
3. Limit social media sharing
Sharing too much on social media may put your personal information in the wrong hands. Pay attention to not only the pictures and posts you share, but also to your privacy settings, as well, so that you’re limiting the number of people who can see what you’re sharing. The Center for Identity at the University of Texas offers tips for managing privacy settings on a variety of social media platforms. If your kids are on social media, you may also want to check their privacy settings. And when it comes to posting, make sure they understand what’s safe to share—and what’s not.
4. Be wary of free Wi-Fi
You get what you pay for, right? Free public Wi-Fi is a good example. Sure, it’s convenient, but in terms of security, most free public Wi-Fi networks don’t offer much. That means, with the right tools, anyone else on the same Wi-Fi network could be “eavesdropping” on your online activity. Given that, would you want to log in to your bank account or enter a credit card number while on public Wi-Fi? The answer is, no!
Even a password-protected Wi-Fi network is only as safe as the people who have the password. Save transactions for when you’re on a secure network, perhaps at home. If you must log in or transact online on public Wi-Fi, use a VPN (virtual private network), which encrypts your activity so that others on the same network can’t easily see what you’re doing.
5. Close unused accounts
Think about all of the online accounts you’ve opened over time. Now, consider which ones are still open, but that you never use. If there’s a breach involving one of those entities, hackers may have access to whatever personal information is tied to that account. An old email account, for instance, could be holding any number of past bank statements and healthcare forms—and those documents may be filled with personal data that could lead to identity theft. Invest some time in identifying unused online accounts and, then, shutting them down. The less personal information you have stored online, the better.
No one can prevent all identity theft, but by using these tips, you’ll help keep your personal information a little more “personal” online—and in this digitally connected age, that’s something to strive for.
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