5 Tips to Reduce Your Risk of Identity Theft

Posted August 24, 2017

Technology may be making our lives easier, but it’s also making us more vulnerable to cybercrimes. The federal Bureau of Justice Statistics says more than 17.5 million people older than 16 were victims of identity theft in 2014, with an average loss of $1,343.

Even a little bit of information about you can help open the door to more, experts say.

“Hackers are targeting publicly available information, such as mother’s maiden name, to gain access to accounts where their intent is to expose sensitive user information,” says Kyle Kilcoyne, marketing, PR, at Confirm, which develops identification authentication software. That information can include encrypted passwords, unencrypted security questions, phone numbers and names, he says.

Fortunately, in many cases a few simple steps can go a long way toward preventing many breaches. Here are some tips to reduce your risk of identity theft.

Practice Good Cyber Hygiene

While it’s impossible to protect against every attack, doing the basics can deter many of them, experts say. Keeping track of your cyber profile — the data you share online about yourself, where you share it and with whom — can go a long way toward protecting your identity and information.

“Set a Google alert for your name and monitor your own online cyber profiles for oversharing,” says Alexis Moore, a lawyer who helps victims of cybercrimes. “Supplying the cyber-predators of today with your personal information — even your pet’s name if it is part of a password — can serve to be too much information.”

In addition, change your passwords often, and use a different password for each account, Moore says.

Look for the Lock

Whether you’re shopping, communicating or just browsing online, the security of the browser and website you’re using can determine whether your personal information is safe or at risk of being compromised. To determine whether a website you’re visiting is safe, look for the lock to the left of the URL in the browser.

A closed lock means your data is encrypted in rest and transit, Kilcoyne says, making your personally identifiable information less susceptible to attacks and hacks. If you’re not sure about the site’s security, Kilcoyne recommends asking your service provider or representative about how they’re protecting your privacy.

“They likely have a web page or terms dedicated to explaining their security practices,” he says.

Don’t Forget Your Phone

Cellphones are a popular target for cybercriminals, but there are several tips to help protect them.

“Most of the ways to do so are very simple,” says Braden Perry, a regulatory and government investigations lawyer with Kennyhertz Perry. He recommends enabling password security, encrypting backups, keeping operating systems updated and using a virtual private network while on public Wi-Fi.

Cellphones can also fall victim to viruses, malware and other online threats through everyday online activity, Perry says.

“These threats are not user-initiated but based on the actions of the multiple online advertisers and are part of the Internet as a whole,” he says.

Sticking to trusted app providers such as the App Store or Google Play can help keep your phone safe, he says.

Trust but Verify

Some of the most insidious cyberattacks can come from where you least expect it: accounts that you think belong to your friends. It’s easy for scammers to create a duplicate account of someone you know, friend you and then ask for seemingly innocuous information.

“If you’ve noticed a number of your friends’ Facebook accounts being fraudulently duplicated, it’s not to get their personal information, it’s to get yours,” says Marc Hinch, a police detective who runs the website Stolen911.com, where victims post information about stolen property.

Once you accept a friend request from a fake account, its owner can ask you seemingly innocuous questions such as “When’s your birthday again?” You may unwittingly give away personal information, thinking you’re giving it to a friend.

“Continued diligence is always the best protection,” Hinch says.

Double Up on Authentication

Two-factor authentication is increasingly used in everyday consumer situations, and it’s important to take advantage of this service when you can, says Jonathan Levine, CTO/CISO of Intermediat, which provides identity management services. Two-factor authentication requires a double security check, such as entering your phone number on a website, then receiving a text code that you use to complete your login to the website. Google Authenticator is the most commonly used two-factor system, Levine says.

Levine recommends using two-factor authentication on key services. This may include password managers, document-sharing platforms and other cloud-based services.

Mary Ellen Slayter is CEO and Founder of Reputation Capital Media Services. She has more than 15 years of experience writing about HR and financial services as a journalist and marketer. Any opinions expressed within this document are solely the opinion of the individual author and may not reflect the opinions of Ebix or its personnel.