ID Theft and Scams > Protecting Your Information

ID Theft Protecting Your Information ID Theft


It can seem like a never-ending battle to keep your information secure, but there are steps you can take to protect your information and mitigate the damage of a compromise. Keep in mind that no matter how good your security posture is, there is always a way that crooks can get access to your accounts, profiles, and personal information. Sometimes, bad actors get access to accounts through hacks of companies, government offices, or by intercepting information as it goes over the internet. In some of these instances, all you can do is monitor your accounts and try to control damage.

Still, there are some proactive steps you can take to secure your data before it is stolen:

Claim your cyber real estate.
You may think that if you don’t set up accounts online (for bill payments, your bank, or other accounts) that it means that your information can’t be accessed online. This is not the case. Companies often keep their databases connected to the internet, along with the portals to set up accounts for clients. A bad actor with your account information could set up an access account for which only they know the login information and security questions. Once you find out and decide to dispute the account, it may be more difficult to recover because the company or government agency will only have the provided recovery information to go off of.

Even if you decide you don’t want to conduct business online, it’s a good idea to set up your accounts and security passwords with information only you would know. Keep that information safely locked away just in case you ever need it. In the event that the company or agency is hacked and your information is compromised, it’ll be easier to recover because you won’t have to spend time proving it’s really you.

Destroy your information when you don’t need it anymore.
Shredding your old bills, statements, and important documents is an easy but important way to keep your identity safe. Consider investing in a shredder that cross shreds; you want to turn your old papers into confetti. The tinier the pieces, the better. If you don’t have a shredder with this feature, check your area for community shred events. In these types of events, members of the community can bring boxes of documents to be shredded in a location where a large industrial shredder is provided, usually free of charge. You can also consider burning documents, but check with your local fire marshal first to see if it is permitted and the correct way to do it.
Just as important as destroying physical documents, sanitizing your digital files is paramount to data protection. Did you know that deleting a file from your hard drive doesn’t really make it go away? When a file is ‘deleted,’ your computer marks the space it takes up on the hard drive as useable. Eventually, the computer will save something else over it, but until that happens, your file is still there and findable. This can be a problem if you want to throw your old hard drive away or donate it.

Check your credit report every year.
You can obtain a free credit report every year, and it’s a good idea to check it over carefully. Note that this is not the same as your credit score (although it’s included in your report), which is the numerical value assigned to how your credit is doing. A full credit report will give you a rundown of every query made against your credit, every line of credit opened, and every payment made towards your accounts. Check over all of these things carefully and make sure that you remember authorizing every transaction. If you don’t recognize an account or notice a suspicious number of checks, it could be signs of trouble.

Your credit score is not as detailed, but it can still be useful. You can access your credit score as many times as you’d like throughout the year. While it doesn’t have the same detailed information as the report, fluctuations in your score can indicate trouble. If your score dips when you haven’t opened any new accounts or made any large purchases, it might be time to take a closer look at your finances.

Be careful where you leave your information.
You wouldn’t leave your pocketbook with all of your important information where just anyone could see, but are you securing the rest of your data the same way? Technology blends so seamlessly in our lives that we often don’t stop to think about the transfer of data that it takes to power some of the latest gadgets. For instance, Bluetooth pairing allows for many devices to easily pair to our phones and computers, expanding the capabilities of both. This pairing requires access to many accounts and profiles to be efficient or to do what we want the device to do (for example, GPS on your phone or vehicle or a Bluetooth speaker system). Sometimes, these profiles leave traces on the device that can be accessed later, which the intention of making the device easier to use in the future. That might make using these devices a better experience, but what happens if you don’t own the device you’re pairing to?
If you’re not sure who will be responsible for caring for data left on a device once your return it, it’s best not to use the device at all. Be careful when connecting to a device in a store, even if you’re trying it out to see if you want to buy it. If you rent a car and pair your phone to use the Bluetooth GPS or speakers, ask the rental company who deletes the information after you return it. If they don’t offer that service, delete your profile from the car’s infotainment system. A lot of information can be gained from even these momentary pairings, like the destination coordinates from the GPS or any calls that were made or received.

Use a VPN.
Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) encrypts any data you send over the internet through your internet browser. This ensures that anyone who might be snooping or capturing data as it moves across the internet won’t be able to tell what it is you’re sending. A VPN license can be purchased for a relatively low price or can even be added onto your existing antivirus service.

You can’t stop every attack that might compromise your identity or your information. Sometimes companies and government agencies suffer hacks that expose millions of customers’ data, but keeping an eye on your accounts, your credit activity, and where you leave your data can help mitigate or even prevent a compromise.