While it’s always been important to be protective about personal information, recent events have reiterated the need for vigilance, both physically and electronically. Here’s a collection of products and tactics you can use to help prevent identity theft and keep your personal information as secure as possible.
Shred Sensitive Documents
Even though more and more of us are banking and paying bills online—and that’s where the majority of the focus of preventing ID theft lies—old-fashioned paper documents are still a source of sensitive information for enterprising thieves. Anything that goes in your trash and contains your personal information should be shredded to keep it out of the hands of those who could exploit it. To be safe, shred anything related to your finances, whether that’s an actual bank statement or junk mail containing credit card applications. For extra security, consider a document shredder that can also destroy credit cards and compact discs.
One of the newer forms of identity theft involves intercepting data that can be transmitted by the RFID tag in many modern credit cards. RFID (Radio-frequency identification) is a technology that uses a small chip to store information and then transmit it to a device that can “read” it. Important note, these are not the chips that are now used in all credit cards—the kinds that require you to insert your card into a reader—those are perfectly safe. RFID cards are the type that can be simply tapped against a reader instead of swiped. While the chips do not actively broadcast information out into the air, identity thieves have been known to use an RFID reader to grab info in a sort-of “virtual pickpocket.” A swipe of the reader near your pocket or purse could potentially pick up personal data. RFID-blocking wallets and purses use signal-blocking material in their construction to prevent this type of snooping. While RFID theft is probably not terribly common,if you believe that being safe is better than being sorry, these wallets could be a good investment. The good news is that you can choose a product like a Tumi ID Lock wallet and get a beautiful, well-crafted wallet that just happens to also have that protective layer.
Password Protect Your Devices
This is a simple tactic, yet a surprising number of people don’t take advantage of it. Your password is the first line of defense between a malicious user and your device—whether that’s a smartphone, tablet, or computer. To keep your accounts safe, it’s important to use a strong password, one that is both complex and long. Complexity keeps it from being guessed by a human or machine, and length prevents what’s known as a “brute force attack,” in which a strong computer program guesses every combination of characters until it breaks your password. For instance, the password “Robertrobertson” is fifteen characters long—which is better than suggested length—but if that’s your name, then a thief might guess it on the first try. Conversely, the password “zP@3?” is complex and unlikely to ever be guessed, but because it’s only five characters, it could be cracked by a supercomputer in just seconds. So, it’s important to combine both attributes in your password. For the best security, include upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols, and make it at least ten characters long.
Have Strong Passwords For Your Email and Financial Accounts
In addition to keeping your machines locked down with a password, ensure that the passwords to all of your online accounts are also strong. Follow the same password tips from above, with a couple additional considerations. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites—if a thief gets into one account, they’ll be able to get into all of them. Create a password that will be easy to remember, so you don’t have to keep it written down and risk having it found, which negates having a good password in the first place. Try to change your passwords on a regular basis, and if one gets compromised—say someone hacks your main e-mail account—you should change passwords to all of your important accounts, just to be safe.
Enable 2-Factor Authentification
If an identity thief is able to crack your email or bank password, 2-factor authentication (2FA) will foil their evil plans. This system requires any user that logs into a machine or account to have access to another device that only the true user would ever have. The most common example of this is your cell phone. When you log into an email account with 2FA enabled, you’ll get a text message with a secret code which you’ll need to input to access the account. So, only the person with the cell phone could get into that email. Most email providers and financial sites have the ability to enable 2-factor authentication
Use Antivirus Software
Even the savviest web users can still fall prey to viruses or malware. These intrusive programs get more sophisticated every day. For optimal protection, enable an antivirus and malware-monitoring software to keep your computer clean. This doesn’t need to be an additional expense. Windows Defender, which is included for free on all Windows computers, is considered one of the best antivirus programs available.
Securely Dispose of Hard Drives
This is one tactic that straddles both the physical and electronic worlds. When disposing or recycling a hard drive—whether on its own or when you’re getting rid of an entire computer—you must consider what types of sensitive information have been contained on it. Even after deleting a file, remnants may be left over that include private info. There are a variety of methods suggested for ensuring your data is not recoverable, ranging in effectiveness. The most effective methods also require the most work, so it’s up to you to decide how intense you want to get.
For basic protection, format any hard drive before you get rid of it. This will “delete” your data, but it will still be recoverable with some simple programs. You can also use hard drive overwriting software, which fills your hard drive up with random data, making it almost impossible to recover any previous information. But in the end, the only true way to prevent anyone from recovering your data is to physically destroy your hard drive. Common tactics include smashing with a hammer, throwing it in a fire, or drilling through the entire drive to destroy the platters inside.
It’s impossible to fully guarantee the safety of your personal information, but taking these steps will give you the best chances to prevent identity theft.