It’s been over 2 years since Equifax announced their systems were breached and sensitive data like social security numbers were exposed. Seemingly every other month since then, the news is reporting on some kind of similar attack. In January of 2019, Marriot announced hackers accessed their credit card records of 383 million guests. In July of 2019, Capital One exposed 140,000 social security numbers and 80,000 bank account numbers.
At this point, the best thing you can do is already assume your private data has been compromised. So what can you do to protect yourself? Read below to find out.
Top 5 Ways To Protect Yourself
1. Freeze Your Credit
Putting a “freeze” on your credit means no one can access your credit report even if they have your social security number. This is critical because in order for a would-be thief to open an account in your name (credit card, loan, etc), the lender will run a credit check to see if you qualify. The lender will be unable to access your credit report, and will deny the application, thus protecting you.
To freeze your credit, you will need to request it from each of three credit bureaus. This can be done for free at the below links:
As a side note, you will need to “unfreeze” your credit when you want to open an account yourself. This can also be completed using the above links.
2. Do not Reuse Passwords
If you’re like most people, you probably use the same password for every website you use. The problem? If a breach occurs on one website and they gain access to this password, they now have the password to all your accounts.
So what can you do to protect yourself, while also not memorizing unique passwords to every site? I recommend choosing one of two solutions:
- Use a password manager. Password managers will assign strong unique passwords to individual websites, and will retrieve them on demand. This means you no longer have to come up with your own passwords, or memorize them. There are password managers to choose from, but LastPass is considered one of the best.
As part of my Tech Support service, I can do the work of setting up a password manager across all your devices and all the websites you visit.
- If you really don’t want to use a password manager and don’t want to memorize lots of passwords, there is an alternate solution. Create a simple algorithm that adds unique characters at the start or end of your password based on that website.
For example, if your password normally “BlueSky” for your gmail account and yahoo account, you could add the last 3 letters of the website to your password. For gmail it would become “BlueSkyail” and Yahoo would become “BlueSkyhoo”. This means you’re only memorizing one unique password, and the simple algorithm you created.
Less secure than a password manager, but still far better than re-using the exact same password.
3. Use a VPN
VPN stands for “Virtual Private Network” and is a tool you can use to protect your privacy and online data.
In short, a VPN sits between you and the internet and encrypts your data so it cannot be viewed by other entities such as a hacker.
As part of my Tech Support service, I can help choose the best VPN for your needs and get it properly configured and setup on all your devices (phone, laptop, etc).
4. Check if your account has been compromised
Are you interested to see if any of your e-mail accounts have been involved in any kind of data breaches?
Using this website, you can find out. Simply provide your e-mail address, and a list of breaches associated with that e-mail will be provided. It works by searching for your e-mail in a list of “database dumps” containing billions of leaked accounts and records.
What should you do if you’ve been breached? First, immediately change your password with the associated service and account. Next, you can follow the above 3 steps listed in this blog.
5. Monitor Your Accounts and Statements
This is an easy one, but often overlooked due to the busyness of our day-to-day lives. That being said, it’s worth it.
- Review your credit and bank statements for unauthorized charges
- Periodically review your credit report. By law every credit bureau must offer a free credit report every 12 months More info can be found here, where you can also request your free reports.
- Setup transaction alerts. Most credit card companies now offer the ability to op-in to text notifications. This means whenever you use your credit card, a text will be sent.
Complete these 5 steps and you will be vastly more safe and secure than the average person.
Please feel free to each out to me if you have any issues or questions!
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