The widespread use of the Internet has led to changes in the way we handle our personally identifiable information. In reality, we’d never hand over our credit card number to some stranger along the road. But that’s essentially what you do when you place an order online and provide your full credit card number, name, address and even the security code on the back of the card. Unless you’re ordering from a trusted online retailer, you have no idea who might be on the other end of the transaction. A few extra precautions can mean the difference between having control over your own identity and complete financial devastation.
Avoid suspicious websites and links
Phishing websites are one of the most common identity theft scams online today. Hackers and identity thieves set up mock websites that look exactly like the sites of reputable companies. Users are tricked into entering their login information or payment details—which is actually intercepted by the thieves. If you fall for this scam, you’ve just given away your login credentials or credit card information to an identity thief. There are a few general rules to follow to avoid becoming the victim of a phishing scam. Don’t click on links within emails sent from your financial institution, a credit card company or another business, for instance. Instead, enter the URL directly into your address bar—that way you know you’re on the legit website and not a mock site designed to steal your information. Because of the prevalence of these scams, it’s become pretty standard that these types of companies will never email their customers asking for any type of personally identifiable information. If in doubt, call the company directly to find out if the email is legitimate.
Use secure websites whenever possible
Websites with URLs beginning with https:// are secure, meaning the data that you send via the site is encrypted, making it more difficult for thieves to intercept your important information. The Electronic Frontier Foundation offers a Firefox and Chrome extension that will encrypt your communications with any website you’re visiting, even if the site itself doesn’t have a SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate. You can also simply try entering https:// in any site’s URL to see if there’s a secure version available.
Be smart with your login credentials
Managing passwords these days has become a major chore in itself. Most users have signed up for dozens—if not hundreds—of websites for personal, financial and business use. Because it’s so difficult to remember so many usernames and passwords, many of us tend to re-use the same login information across multiple sites. Of course, this makes it easy for hackers to gain access to your bank account online even if they obtained your login credentials from a harmless, unimportant site. The other problem with passwords is too many people use passwords that are just too easy to guess. Using “password,” “pass123,” “pass321” or something common, or using something like your child’s or pet’s name make it way too easy for hackers to outsmart your password-creation skills. The passwords that are toughest to crack are at least eight characters long and include at least one uppercase letter, one lowercase letter, one number and one special character. Beyond this, you should use unique passwords for every site you belong to—if you need to, use a password-keeper application that you secure with a single, strong password that you’ll remember, and change it frequently. These are just a few of the more common ways hackers can steal your identity online. But hackers are becoming ever-more sophisticated in their methods, so you must use your brain at all times when you’re interacting online. Check your credit report regularly to catch and resolve any suspicious activity before it gets out of hand. And most of all, use your brain: Don’t give away too much personal information on social networking sites, remain suspicious at all times (better safe than sorry) and use a reputable, up-to-date anti-malware and anti-virus protection program.
This article is written by Katelyn. He is a freelance writer who frequently creates content on behalf of Guardi.us, an Internet security blog with a particular focus on providing resources to help users learn how to remove toolbars and other unwanted software and plugins.