Staying Cyber Safe

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From connecting with friends on social networks to managing our finances online, we Americans enjoy the convenience and efficiency of our digital lives, but these benefits aren’t without risks.  The personal information that we share online while banking, shopping and posting on social media presents a huge opportunity for cyber criminals to steal your sensitive data to commit crimes.

As more online scams, frauds and data breaches threaten our digital lives, it is critical that everyone makes cyber security a priority. To help protect yourself online, the Department of Homeland Security offers these simple tips:

  • Lock down your login. Usernames and passwords are often not enough to protect important accounts like email, banking, and social media. Fortify your accounts by enabling the strongest authentication tools available, such as multi-factor authentication for your online accounts and fingerprint identification and security keys to lock your mobile device.
  • Choose strong passwords. Passwords are one of the biggest weak spots in the whole Internet security structure. The problem with passwords is that people tend to choose easy ones to remember, which are also easy for cyber thieves to guess. Select strong passwords that are harder for cybercriminals to demystify. Password manager software can help you to manage multiple passwords so that you don’t forget them. A strong password is one that is unique and complex—at least 15 characters long, mixing letters, numbers and special characters. Additionally, don’t “recycle” a password. Password-protected sites are often vulnerable because people often use the same passwords on numerous sites. If your password is breached, your other accounts could be put at risk if you use the same passwords.
  • Shop Securely. Before you enter credit card information at a retailer’s website, check to make sure that the website is secure. A secure website normally has “https” in its URL and a lock icon next to the URL address. Consider designating a credit card account – or purchasing a reloadable prepaid card – exclusively for online or holiday shopping and leave the rest of your credit cards at home. That way, if a thief does get your credit card or credit card number, the loss will be minimized. Avoid using your debit card, which may not offer the same kind of theft/loss protection.
  • Keep a clean machine. Regularly update the software on your Internet-connected devices, including PCs, smartphones, and tablets, to reduce the risk of infection from malware.
  • Treat personal information like money. Information about you, such as your purchase history and location, has value – just like money. Protect your data by being cautious about how your information is collected by apps and websites.
  • Own your online presence. Control and limit who can see your information online by checking the privacy and security settings on your accounts and apps. Anything you post publicly could potentially be seen by a cyber-criminal, so keep your personal information private.
  • Share with care. Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what a post reveals, who might see it, and how it could be perceived now and in the future.

Additional ways to protect your data

Another important way to protect yourself from becoming an identity theft victim is to check your credit report, at least, annually.  You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies at https://www.annualcreditreport.com. Check for any errors on your report. Strange addresses on your credit report might be an early indicator of an identity thief trying to direct communication about a new, counterfeit account(s) set up in your name to a false address to delay you learning about fraudulent activity. Correct any errors right away to prevent illegal activity.

An additional step to protect your data is to put a security freeze on your credit reports. The freeze will prevent unauthorized access to your credit information which is needed to set up new accounts. This should be done with all three credit reporting agencies. If you need to provide your credit information for a legitimate purpose (new job, home or auto purchase, etc.), the freeze can be suspended temporarily to allow your access.

Keep these internet and data safety rules in minds and you’ll avoid many of the nasty surprises that lurk online for the careless.