5 Tips for Preventing Online Identity Theft

The holiday season is upon us. The next two months should be a time of fun and good cheer for everyone, but it’s also a time to be very cautious. The reason? Identity thieves are lurking in the dark recesses of the Internet and they’re more active now than ever.

As a technology professional, I’ve seen my share of problems related to hacking. The good news is that it’s very easy to protect yourself and your devices. Don’t let your personal information be stolen or compromised. Here are five tips for safeguarding your identity.

Stay away from phishing emails and websites

This is a website that looks legitimate but isn’t. Often, they’re linked to rogue email messages that appear official but are anything but. On the surface, it looks just like the real deal, but it isn’t. It was cleverly created to persuade you to enter personal information, which can then be used for nefarious purposes.

How do you know it’s fake? Well. you might not, although there are some telltale signs: a word misspelled, the wrong URL (web address),or an email address that was not sent from the official company domain. If any email message or website asks you for your social security, bank, credit card, or driver’s license number, health insurance information or other personal data, visit the company’s actual web page, call their help line and ask about the request before sharing any information.

Use a unique password

Sure, it’s easy to just enter your address, a phone number or someone’s nickname when prompted for a new password. Unfortunately, these might be the first things hackers try when attempting to access someone’s account. Whether you have five or 25 passwords, it will only help you if you make them all completely different. This can’t be overstated. Consider a different combination of letters (upper and lowercase), numbers and punctuation marks for each password, and create a record of each for easy referral. You can also change your passwords regularly to keep the hackers off guard.

Be discreet about personal information

With Facebook and other social platforms becoming a repository for recording daily activities, people often post way too much information on their personal pages. It’s advisable to think twice before putting personal information on public view. Believe it or not, hackers can create a pretty accurate personal profile of you with information they find on your social media pages, then use it against you. Similarly, be cautious about posting messages like, “Well, I’m off for my morning run.” Hackers and thieves perceive such information as “I’m not home for the next hour.”

Only buy from reputable websites

Ecommerce has taken the place of brick-and-mortar stores in large part, and the convenience online shopping websites provide can’t be argued. But the proliferation of such platforms has also created problems. All reputable online shopping sites have (or should have) security measures built in, meaning that your personal information is encrypted and unavailable to the average hacker. This means that entering your credit card number should be a worry-free experience. On the other hand, there are many sites that aren’t as safe. For you, this means thoroughly investigating an unfamiliar shopping site before you make a transaction. You can do this in several ways. One is to look for online reviews by other shoppers. Another is to look for “https” in the website’s URL. which indicates that it’s a secure, encrypted connection.

Be wary of public wi-fi

While it’s tempting and convenient to make purchases online from the comfort of your coffeehouse table while sipping a latte, it’s not necessarily safe. Public wi-fi, while a convenient benefit offered by many gathering places, is susceptible to unexpected hacks. Just to be safe, wait until you get home to make that purchase.

Remember, always be aware of your surroundings. You never know when a hacker is just around the corner ready to confiscate your personal information for malicious use.