Protect Yourself From Being Hacked Right Now

In today’s digitally connected world, it’s no longer a question of “if” you’ll be hacked – it’s more of a question of “when” you’ll be hacked. Are you prepared? Here are seven ways you can protect yourself.

I can’t begin to tell you how many stories I’ve heard from people who have experienced the misfortune of someone stealing their personal information. In fact, a close friend of mine recently had his sensitive information compromised, which led me to write this post to help other people become more aware of the dangers that exist to all of us.

A Story Close To Home

My friend found out something was wrong when he received a call from Home Depot. Someone had called into Home Depot with his Social Security number to inquire about the credit limit on his credit card. Naturally, since this wasn’t him he immediately canceled his card and a fraud alert was set-up for his new card.

Not a week later, he received a second call, this time from Lowes. The store clerk informed him he had left some of his merchandise from his recent visit. But he hadn’t shopped at Lowes that week. The same criminal was using his credit at now a different location and managed to spend upwards of $10,000. In addition, this individual returned $4,000 of the merchandise and received gift cards instead of having the charges taken off the card. Apparently, criminals will return items for store credit to make it more difficult to track their movement.

How You Can Protect Yourself

While it may feel hopeless to safeguard your sensitive data from digitally-savvy thieves who can hack the likes of Target, Equifax, and even the United States government’s Office of Personnel Management (OPM), you don’t have to make identity theft easy. Being proactive about identity protection is much better than the time and energy it takes to be reactive after something happens, like what my friend now has to deal with, likely for the rest of his life.

There are things everyone can (and should) do to protect your personal information being hacked.  Here are seven ways to make it harder for people trying to steal your identity.

1.       Do not provide your Social Security Number

Unless your Social Security number is a mandatory piece of information to verify your identity, don’t share it. Most businesses do not need it, even if they ask for it. Also, if anyone asks to see your tax returns, make sure they are sent with your SS# redacted.

2.       Don’t use open Wi-Fi Connections

Starbucks, Kohl’s, hotel chains, maybe even your place of worship offers free public Wi-Fi access. Use your data plan instead. Public Wi-Fi connections are wide open for anyway. When you connect to a public Wi-Fi, you’re leaving your device vulnerable for someone to hack. Since many people do online banking through mobile apps, you are inviting trouble when you access these unsecured connections.

3.       Don’t give your personal information to someone who calls or emails you

The IRS, your bank, or other institution that seems credible will never call you and ask for your personal information. Hang up the phone and call them back per the number listed on the back of your credit card or website. They will also never send you an email that randomly asks you to verify your full information out of the blue. These are scams that have left many unassuming victims in their wake.

4.       Get a secure password keeper

If all your passwords are saved in an Excel spreadsheet on your home computer, this tip is especially for you. Use secure services like Last Pass or Dashlane. It can make your life easier to have all your passwords centralized, and your information will be much safer.

5.       Use two-factor verification everywhere you can

Two-factor verification is when logging in to a service requires more than one piece of data to verify you are the actual user. Banks are typically very good at providing two and even three-factor verification. Logging in requires more than a password; it can also require a security question and/or verification image you previously set with your login credentials.

6.       Don’t use your debit card for online purchases

Use a credit card instead of your debit card for online purchases. Your credit card comes with some level of fraud protection. That means if someone does gain access to your credit card information and uses your card, you won’t be on the hook to pay for their merchandise. If they get ahold of your debit card information, your cash is as good as gone.

7.       Review your bank and credit card statements monthly

One of the best ways to spot fraudulent activity is by keeping a watchful eye on your statements. If that’s not a possibility, consider a paid service like Lifelock. You can also set alerts up through your credit card companies to let you know when any purchase is made with your card or any charge over a threshold amount you set.

What To Do If You Are Compromised

To protect yourself against being hacked, resist becoming complacent. It can happen to you. If your information is compromised, here is a quick list of what you should do and who you should report it to:

·         Freeze your credit (with all three crediting agencies: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion)

·         Report the fraudulent activity to the Federal Trade Commission

·         File a police report

·         Contact the Social Security Administration

·         Consider signing up for credit monitoring with Lifelock or a similar service

My friend did all of these things: signed up for Lifelock, froze his credit, filed the police report, filed with the FTC and SSA, and even so, weeks later, criminals were still attempting to use his credit to make purchases. Close monitoring and refuting fraudulent purchases is now part of my friend’s life.

Being digitally connected leaves us vulnerable everywhere we log online. Therefore, do what you can and hope it’s enough to deter criminals from attempting to steal your sensitive personal information.