Lock the door to your info
How to keep yourself safe in a digital world
Updated Nov. 2018: In the good old days, we locked money and personal papers away in bank vaults to protect them from theft. Today, our money is locked away in electronic vaults, and our information is dispersed in many locations that we give our information or that receive our information in other ways. And thieves work tirelessly and almost constantly to steal this information online.
How to keep your data safe
It’s nearly impossible to protect yourself against all types of data breaches. Even the most careful individual can have his or her data stolen when companies get hacked.
- Avoid unusual email attachments and links. You likely know not to open strange attachments, even from friends, but increasingly, thieves place online ads to hack into our accounts.
- Be careful in creating passwords. Don’t ever use the same password, especially for financial accounts. Length is your friend. Use phrases without names or numbers that can be traced to you, like I like to drive fast cars.
- Shop with a credit card. Credit cards have protections against fraudulent charges so that you aren’t responsible to pay for them. Debit cards sometimes don't have the same protections, and you may have to pay for fraudulent charges. Talk to your bank or credit union for specific details related to your debit card.
- Be cautious about public Wi-Fi. While you are sitting at a coffeehouse, don’t visit your online financial accounts or use your debit or credit card to buy something online.
- Pay attention to your accounts. Regularly check your bank accounts and credit card statements. You’ll have a better chance of spotting fraud if you’re looking.
What to do when your data is breached
Data breaches will happen and are almost impossible to avoid altogether.
- Set up fraud alerts. Also known as credit alerts, these are free and can be renewed every 90 days. A fraud alert informs creditors looking at your credit reports that they need to take additional steps to verify your identification before they extend a credit line or loan in your name.
- Monitor your accounts for fraud. You should already check your bank accounts and credit cards, but make sure you’re on the lookout for charges you don’t recognize. Many credit cards let you set up activity alerts that let you know about charges on your card.
- Look at your credit reports yearly. Access your credit reports for free by visiting annualcreditreport.com. Keep an eye out for people looking for loans or other accounts in your name.
- Consider a credit freeze. The biggest step you can take is to freeze your credit with each of the credit bureaus. As of September 2018, there is no cost for a credit freeze. The downside of a credit freeze is that you’ll have to temporarily lift or completely remove the freeze if you want to get a loan or credit card with a new creditor – or if you’re applying for a new job that needs to check your credit report.
The ultimate lesson here is that you need to be watchful of your accounts and credit, and take the steps that make you feel safer. If you think you’re a victim of identity theft, please refer to identitytheft.gov, which is a great resource for reporting identity theft and developing a plan to recover from identity theft.