How to Protect Your Personal Information

An essential question, how do you protect your personal information from cybercriminals?  Obviously, handing over sensitive data carries risks. Identity theft rates are increasing — in 2022 alone, the Federal Trade Commission received over 1.1 million reports. Additionally, data breaches have more than tripled, according to a 2022 report from Verizon.

But there’s good news: you can take steps to protect your personal information. Some actions are one-time tasks, while others become habits over time. Let’s take a deeper dive into these steps.

Strengthen Your Passwords

Protect yourself online by using a unique password for each account — email, social media, mobile banking, and more. Create passwords that are easy for you to remember but tough for others to crack.

Here are some tips for crafting strong passwords:

  • Combine upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numbers.
  • Longer passwords are generally better — aim for at least six characters.
  • Avoid using personal information like your name, birthday, or email address.
  • Random passwords are harder for hackers to guess. Consider using a password generator if needed.

Activate Two-Factor Authentication

Enhance your security with two-factor authentication (2FA) whenever possible. 2FA requires an additional authentication method along with your username and password. This could involve receiving a numerical code on your phone or email, using fingerprint ID, or facial recognition.

Some accounts offer extra protection through authenticator apps like Google Authenticator or Microsoft Authenticator, generating a verification passcode for login.

Ensure Secure Connections

Using public Wi-Fi networks was once risky, but now it’s generally safe due to encryption measures employed by most websites. Encryption scrambles data, making it decipherable only with a unique encryption key.

To confirm encryption, look for a lock symbol or “https” in your browser’s URL bar.

Recognize Phishing Scams

Phishing remains a prevalent threat. Phishing emails and texts can take various forms, such as prompts to confirm financial information, alerts about suspicious activity, or offers for free items.

To avoid falling victim, exercise caution with emails containing attachments or unfamiliar links. Legitimate companies typically don’t send links to update payment information. If unsure, contact the company directly.

Review Your Credit Report

Regularly checking your credit report helps safeguard your identity and finances. Obtain a free credit report annually from Equifax, Experian, and Transunion via AnnualCreditReport.com. Review the report for accuracy, and report any discrepancies to the credit bureaus.

💡 Quick Tip: Check your credit report annually to prevent errors that could harm your credit score.

Monitor Your Accounts

Tracking credit card and bank account activity not only helps manage spending but also detects suspicious charges early. Be vigilant for unfamiliar charges, as scammers may start with small amounts before escalating.

Adjust Social Media Privacy Settings

Strengthening privacy settings on social media limits access to personal data, reducing the risk of hacking. Hackers can exploit photos and comments to gain information about you.

Utilize Online Security Tools

Government resources like Identity Theft offer assistance if your identity is compromised. Access resources for troubleshooting, creating protection plans, and reporting identity theft.

Keep Software Updated

Though updating software may disrupt workflow temporarily, it’s essential for data protection. Updates often include new features and enhanced security measures. Enable automatic updates for convenience.

Consider a Credit Freeze

A credit freeze prevents hackers from opening accounts in your name by restricting access to your credit report. While it doesn’t impact your credit score, it temporarily blocks new account openings. Lift the freeze as needed for specific purposes.

Implement Fraud Alerts

Fraud alerts require creditors to verify your identity before extending credit. This simpler alternative to a credit freeze is useful if you suspect unauthorized access to your data.