If you use the Internet on a daily basis – and just about everybody does – it’s important that you take steps to hide your identity. Why? It’s not because you are using the web to do anything you shouldn’t. Instead, it’s because your identity can easily be stolen by cybercriminals without your knowledge.
Once your personal information – such as your Social Security number, your bank account number, your passwords and other sensitive, valuable information are stolen, it can be used to raid your bank account, charge products to your credit cards, and even ruin your reputation.
Even people who think they are being cautious about using privacy settings aren’t as safe as they may believe. They can still be vulnerable to identity theft or a cyber attack, especially if they allow outside parties to access their profiles.
Fortunately, protecting your identity online is a relatively simple thing to do. Here are five steps you can take to get started:
Delete Important Personal Information from your Social Media Accounts
Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and other social media platforms offer a fun, interactive way to stay in touch with family, friends, former co-workers and classmates and other acquaintances. But they are also a hotbed of cybercriminal activity.
If you have personal details on your social media profiles such as your home address, your phone number, the names and ages of your children, where they go to school, and other information, it’s important that you delete it as soon as possible. This is precisely the kind of information identity thieves use to “prove” that they are you.
It’s also a good idea to un-Friend those people you don’t know personally. And you should minimize the details you share in the “About Me” section of your Facebook profile. Another precaution is to be careful about the pages that you “Like”, which makes it easier for third parties to find you.
Check Your Social Media Privacy Settings
Facebook and other social media platforms have been criticized for changing the terms of service without adequately informing the millions of users who use these platforms daily.
Change all of your Facebook settings to “Friends Only” for all posts in order to have a more secure profile. Every time Facebook updates its terms of service, there’s a likelihood that your settings may have defaulted to “Public”, so it’s a good idea to check this setting on a semi-regular basis.
You also should check the privacy settings on your smartphones, tablets and other devices. In some cases, the default setting for the built-in GPS is “on”, which means that just about anybody can find you instantly wherever you are.
Make Sure Your Passwords Are Secure and Strong
Let’s face it: Passwords are a pain in the butt. Yet they are essential for preventing unwanted people from accessing your personal accounts.
Most people use a handful of passwords for all their accounts because it’s easier to remember one or two than to have a different password for every site you use. This is not a good idea because if someone should somehow get your password to one account, they may be able to unlock many others as well.
A worse idea is to use a standard password, such as “Password”, “1234” or your home address or something else easy to guess. While these may be easy to remember, they also are very simple to hack.
Instead, try to come up with a password that you can remember relatively easy, but that nobody else will be able to guess intuitively. Plus, if you can’t remember a separate password for every account and website you access, at least use multiple passwords so hacking one won’t lead to the lost integrity of all.
To strengthen your passwords, make sure they include at least one capital letter, one number, and one symbol such as an exclamation point (!), an Asterix (*) or an ampersand (&).
Here are some sample passwords that are strong yet simple to remember:
Be Smart About Your Emails
Email scammers are getting more sophisticated. Obviously, you want to be careful about opening attachments in emails that come from sources you don’t recognize (or even opening the emails themselves). Never, never, never respond to any emails that ask for information such as your account numbers or passwords, even if they appear to come from your bank, financial institution or government body.
Banks or legitimate commercial businesses would ever ask you for this information through email. When in doubt, delete the email immediately and call or visit your bank directly.
Secure Your Personal Communications Network
Use a Virtual Privacy Network (VPN) to encrypt your online correspondence and shield your browsing history from outside eyes. Password protect your WiFi so hackers in your area (or even your neighbors) can steal your signal.