Five Steps to Cut Your Data Security Risks

Hackers are a particularly stubborn bunch. Each new security advance just motivates them to come up with a better game plan. A new case of identity theft occurs about every two seconds, so you need to be informed and vigilant to avoid becoming a victim. Here are five simple steps you can take to protect your identity online.


  1. Practice wise web habits


The United States is adopting the use of credit cards with microchips that will largely eliminate the use of counterfeit cards and reduce the threat of fraud when you use your card in person.

However, statistics on credit fraud indicate that the drop in counterfeiting will be accompanied by an increase in online fraud as criminals put more emphasis there. That change will make practicing safe web habits more important than ever.


For the safest web experience, avoid public Wi-Fi networks where hackers can easily access your activities. Instead, stick with secure home networks. If you must shop or bank on the go, install a virtual private network, or VPN, which hides your IP address and encrypts information to maintain privacy.


All websites aren’t created equal, so exchange sensitive information only over secure sites and with organizations you know and trust. While reputable financial institutions such as First National Bank of Pasco provide strong remote banking security, retail sites still require careful inspection. Identify secure sites by a web address beginning with “https” and a picture of a locked padlock in the address bar. It’s still important to log out of all accounts after completing transactions and to delete cookies regularly.


  1. Update devices


Hackers are constantly working to outsmart security software, so stay one step ahead by installing the latest browser version and operating system on your smartphone, laptop or other device. Additionally, be sure to regularly upgrade to the most recent versions of firewall, antivirus and antispyware programs.


  1. Create strong passwords — but don’t get attached to them


As tempting as it is to use your birthday or favorite hobby as a password, keep in mind that when passwords are easy for you, they soon become easy for identity thieves. Foil hackers by avoiding the obvious and by including symbols, numbers, and both upper- and lowercase letters. Don’t get too comfortable with these passwords, though: For the best security, change your login information frequently.


  1. Don’t be fooled by scammers


Identity theft scams can be quite convincing if you’re not wise to them. Often they come in the form of emails that look like they’ve been sent from familiar companies. These messages may indicate that there’s a problem with your account and instruct you to click on links and enter information in order to fix the issue.


Don’t fall for it. No legitimate business would make this type of unsolicited request. The links provided will most likely take you to copycat websites designed to steal your passwords, account numbers and other personal data. Never click on links in suspicious emails, and contact businesses only through their official websites and phone numbers.


  1. Nip trouble in the bud


No matter how careful you are, sometimes identity theft still happens. Catching fraud early is key to prevent it from escalating, so monitor your checking and savings account statements and credit reports regularly.


If you spot a problem, don’t panic. Notifying the financial institution or retailer involved immediately can help ensure that you won’t be held responsible. To help prevent future crimes, report any fraud incidents to the Federal Trade Commission.


Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet


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