We’ve all heard about identity theft. But does it ever actually happen?
The answer, unfortunately, is yes. The Federal Trade Commission received nearly 2.1 million identity theft claims in 2020, roughly twice the amount it received the year prior.
The scammers are out there. With a little due diligence, you can keep your identity safe and out of the hands of bad actors. Here’s a look at how to do it.
1. Keep software updated on all devices
Unfortunately, internet security isn’t a set it and forget it business. Installing security software is only the first step in safekeeping your private information.
To make sure your devices are receiving the latest and greatest protection, update your software and applications as soon as possible. This goes for computers, tablets and smartphones, too. Developers release updates in order to patch and prevent flaws in security. A good way to eliminate human error is to turn on automatic updates.
2. Take steps to protect your passwords
When creating a password, opt for a passphrase instead, as suggested by the FBI. Longer passwords are much more effective than shorter, complex passwords. Combine multiple words together to form a unique, lengthy phrase that you can remember. The more possibilities, the harder it is for an adversary to crack.
Understandably, the digital age requires us to sign up for many different accounts. In order to memorize passwords, people tend to repeat them with little variation. But if one account is compromised, so could all the others. Never use the same password on multiple online accounts. Instead, use a password manager to securely store your account details and take some of the pressure off memorizing them all.
3. When you discard an old device, make sure your information is wiped clean
Maybe you’re selling an old computer or tossing out a hard drive — either way, you never know who may find them. If anybody with malicious intent did get their hands on your old devices, they may be able to recover data. To avoid this fate, always be sure to wipe hard drives clean before tossing them.
4. Teach your children how to stay safe and recognize phishing scams
Children, according to a 2018 study by Javelin, are especially vulnerable to identity theft. Researchers found that millions of children are victimized every year with losses totaling over $540 million out of parents’ pockets alone.
Parents can start teaching the dangers of identity theft early in children’s digital lives. By instilling habits at an early age, they’ll carry those safe practices well into adulthood.
5. Be aware of suspicious “tech support experts”
A common tactic used by scammers is to impersonate an authority figure in the tech industry, usually a customer support specialist. This ruse involves cold calling, emailing or even texting targets in an attempt to relinquish control over their devices. They may claim that your computer is sending out viruses, for example. They play to your fears and insist that they’re doing you a service by cleaning your tech.
Never allow these malicious actors to access your devices. Because most manufacturers never make unsolicited communication about accessing your computer, it’s safe to assume these calls are bad news.
If you get a message that sounds anything like this, just hang up.