Once they get their hands on your information, it doesn’t take long for thieves to make use of it. Credit cards, social media, job applications, health insurance – with your personal information, a clever criminal can set themselves up with a pretty sweet life using your identity. We talk a lot about security on this blog, and there are several easy ways you take steps to safeguard your sensitive information – both online and offline.
1. Know who you’re sharing with
Don’t share your personal information with just anyone. If you initiated the contact (online, in person, over the phone), you know the person you’re speaking with is legitimate and that their motivations are good. But, if someone calls or emails you claiming to be your bank or your doctor and asks for personal information, be skeptical, especially if you weren’t expecting the call or don’t recognize the email address or telephone number. Don’t give anything out, hang up, and call your bank or doctor at the number you have for them.
You should also ask why someone needs your personal information – even if it is for something you want. How will they use it? How will they protect it? If you’re not comfortable giving out information like your Social Security number, don’t – but be aware that you may not get a product or service you want.
2. Protect paper documents
Someone who wants to steal identities has no problem picking through the trash or recycling bin looking for financial, medical, or personal documents. When you no longer need these documents anymore, don’t throw them into the recycling bin intact. Shred them first. The same goes for expired credit cards. Some home shredders can handle plastic. If yours can’t, cut the card with scissors and distribute the pieces among several trash cans. The FTC also recommends destroying the labels on prescription bottles before you dispose of them.
Thieves will also check your mailbox, so if you’ve got mail to go out, take it directly to the post office, especially if you’re mailing bills or medical information. That raised red flag on your mailbox is a sign to a criminal that something useful to them might be waiting to go out. Pick up your mail as soon as you can after it is delivered so that no one else can go through your mail. When possible, opt for paperless delivery of your statements and bills.
3. Carry only what you need
Not all documents need to be carried with you every day. Unless you’re going to an appointment where you need it, you probably don’t need to have your Social Security card and medical cards with you every day. The same goes for your passport and birth certificate. When you go out, carry only the identification and credit cards you need. Leave the rest at home in a secure location, like a safe.
4. Be careful online
Taking simple steps to protect yourself online can go a long way toward protecting your identity and personal information. These steps include:
- Use strong passwords. Create long, hard-to-guess passwords that contain letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and special characters like asterisks and exclamation points. Having a hard time remembering them all? A password manager like LastPass can keep you organize and protected. Read more about creating strong passwords.
- Keep antivirus and spyware software up to date. These programs detect and remove malicious files that come through websites, email, and social media. The key to their success is keeping them up to date so that the latest virus and spyware information is available. Miss an update, and something could get through.
- Be skeptical when you read your email. Spam and phishing scams are one method criminals use to get your information. They pose as your bank, doctor, favorite shopping website, or PayPal to trick you into giving your personal information. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is, and if the email doesn’t look quite right to you, it probably isn’t. Read more about how to protect yourself from spam and phishing.
- Post discretely to social media. Never ever share personal and sensitive information like account numbers on social media. Limit who can see your email address, mailing address, or phone number – or consider not sharing them at all on social media.
- Use public wifi carefully. As we’ve discussed in the past, it is not wise to bank or shop over a public wireless Internet connection. Know your network, and don’t send any sensitive personal or business information over an unsecure wifi connection. Read more about protecting yourself while using public wifi here.
5. Stay in the know
You’re allowed one free credit report per year from the big reporting services, and it’s worth your while to take advantage of it. Be familiar with your credit report and the activity within your accounts so that you will know as soon as something unusual happens. Review them frequently so that you will know as soon as something suspicious happens.
Looking for ways to keep your business and personal information secure? We’re experts in security, and can help you protect your information and that of your clients and customers. We’ll even give your business’ computer network a free security check! Contact PNSolutions today with your security questions.