Hackers have victimized tens of millions of Americans lately by stealing personal information ranging from credit card accounts to Social Security numbers.
With such information, a hacker or identity thief can open new loans or accounts in your name, file a fraudulent tax return, or even empty your bank accounts of cash.
Unfortunately, there have been numerous high-profile data breaches at a wide range of well-known corporations and organizations, including Home Depot, Target, Best Buy, J.P. Morgan Chase, and even Goodwill, the non-profit that accepts donations and sells second-hand clothing through its stores.
While consumers don’t have much say-so over how well companies and organizations store personal data, you do have plenty of control over how well you protect your own mobile devices and data stored on the cloud.
Jeff Bell, the CEO of LegalShield, a legal services and identity theft protection provider, shares five key ways that you can engage in better data protection practices, and keep hackers from ruining your financial life.
Only Use Secure Passwords
Why on earth would you use ‘123456’ as a password? Sure, it’s easy to remember. But it’s also ridiculously easy for hackers to guess.
According to Bell, a California data security company recently analyzed the 32 million passwords exposed by a social networking site hacker. “The analysis revealed that people still make use of weak passwords,” Bell says.
Nearly 500,000 people used either “12345,” “123456,” or “123456789.” Almost 62,000 people used “password” as their password. Don’t make this classic mistake.
“By having a strong password you can set up an initial safety barrier to protect personal and sensitive information,” Bell notes.
Deploy the Right Technology
Have you ever lost or misplaced your cell phone? You may have spent some anxious moments – perhaps hours – worrying about it, and fretting over what someone else could find on your phone. To avoid this dilemma, use technology that enables remote wiping of mobile devices, Bell suggests.
This will give you the ability to erase your data, especially sensitive information, from the device even if you don’t have it in your possession.
Another tech tip: Encrypt your mobile device if possible.
“If the device is encrypted, or at a minimum protected with a password or PIN, the risk of data loss is greatly reduced,” Bell says.
Don’t Automatically Reach for the Cloud
To safeguard your electronic information, you should turn off the automatic storing of data to the cloud.
For instance, with photos on your iPhone, don’t have them added to your “Photo Stream” which stores photos on iCloud for a period of time. Otherwise, you could be storing photos in iCloud without even realizing it and making yourself potentially more vulnerable to hackers.
Know That It’s OK to Fib
How many times have you had to enter the answer to a security question such as: Where did you go to high school? Well, it wouldn’t take much for a cyber crook to find out that information, based on your Facebook or social media posts.
So “with security questions, using the truthful answer isn’t always a good thing,” Bell notes. His recommendation: create a fictitious answer for these types of questions. Needless to say, it has to be something you’ll remember. But the key is that a hacker would probably never guess it if you said you went to, say, Roller Coaster High.
Use Two-Factor Authentication
“With this method, you use a password and then a uniquely created code that is generated and sent to either your email account or phone,” says Bell. You then provide that code as a second piece of identity authentication to gain access to the account. It’s a more secure way of protecting your information and it doesn’t take much time or effort to do.
By using Bell’s tips, you can definitely keep hackers from ruining your financial life – and you’ll cut your risk of identity theft as well.