While the Internet has opened up unlimited possibilities for shopping, researching and communicating with others around the world, it has also opened up a plethora of criminal activity that can compromise your identity and your privacy. Identity theft is a major problem, impacting over 15 million people each year, and it has become one of the fastest growing crimes in the United States.
In addition to stealing a person’s identity, hackers and cybercriminals are invading people’s privacy. Once inside a person’s computer, they’re stealing all types of personal information including photos, contact names and phone numbers and other private details and correspondence. There is help, however, to keep your identity and your privacy safe and out of the hands of hackers. You simply need to follow some fundamental principles for protecting yourself and there are also some tools that you can use to help.
Fundamental #1: Avoid Public Wi-Fi Spoofs
How many times have you sat at a Starbucks or other café and logged on to the Internet? Well, if you follow this practice, you’re putting yourself at risk for identity theft. Whether it’s an airplane, a shopping center or coffee shop, public Wi-Fi is where cybercriminals hang out just waiting for you to log in. They’ll sit there and create a Wi-Fi spoof with a name that isn’t real. Once you log in and enter your name and passwords, it’s downloaded, and your identity is in jeopardy.
Many hackers enter the names of well-known companies, but they’re not real. They could set up a “Starbucks” name and you would never know that it wasn’t real because it’s a spoof. So the caveat here is to be careful – avoid public Wi-Fi spots at all costs!
Fundamental #2: Know Who You’re Communicating With
Many times, you’ll receive emails from people whom you aren’t familiar with, but their emails are enticing, and they often pretend to know you. The question is, do you really know who you’re communicating with? Are they really the person that they claim to be? Before you continue with your correspondence, it’s good to know who you’re talking to.
One of the best ways to verify a person’s true identity is using Nuwber, a people search site that will give you in-depth information on a person including address, phone number, background info, social media profiles and other relevant information. You can search by name, phone number and email address. You can search with confidence, as they have a comprehensive database of U.S. citizens.
Fundamental #3: Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network)
Before you log on to any public Wi-Fi, be sure you have a VPN (Virtual Private Network) installed on your computer or your device. A VPN is, just as its name implies – private, and it allows you to send and receive data the same way as if it were on your home or work private Wi-Fi network. Nobody is able to hack in and capture any information or data, and your correspondence over the Internet is secure. That includes data, credit card numbers – anything that you would normally do online.
Fundamental #4: Put A Freeze on Your Credit
This is one action that many people are taking because it is the smart way to protect your identity and your privacy. Doing a credit freeze prevents companies from running your credit without your permission, so if someone has gotten hold of your social security number and credit information, they couldn’t apply for credit cards or car loans without a direct approval from you.
Sending each major credit agency, a certified letter requesting the credit freeze is all it takes. The three agencies are Transamerica, Experian and Equifax. Just go online and get their address and any additional information needed. Once you ask for the credit freeze, the credit agencies will send you a PIN number to use whenever you want to access your credit.
Fundamental #5: Monitor Your Bank Statements
Whether you receive paper statements by mail or you bank only online, always check your bank and credit card statements to ensure that no illegal or unauthorized transactions have taken place. If you have credit accounts with stores, do the same thing. You’d be surprised how many people have gone online and accessed their Macy’s or Nordstrom credit account only to find charges that were made by someone other than the cardholder. Turns out that their card was stolen, and the thief used the “forgot my password” approach to retrieve it.
If you want to protect yourself even further, many experts suggest covering the camera on your personal computer with some blackout tape. The reason is that many hackers who gain access to your computer use a software product to access your computer’s camera and end up watching you, without you knowing about it, 24/7. By covering the camera lens they can’t watch what you do.
As you can see the fundamentals are easy enough to implement, and by following these you are protecting both your identity and privacy from hackers and cyberthieves. Taking simple steps like doing a credit freeze and placing tape over your computer’s camera also help protect your identity and keep away prying eyes that have no business being in a room with you even if it’s done via a computer camera.