The holidays and the ever-increasing propensity for online shopping bring the risk of identity theft, an understandable topic of concern for many shoppers. Bankrate estimates that in 2016 alone, 41 million Americans were victims of identity theft. When every credit card swipe represents the potential for thieves to steal personal and financial information, it’s important that we understand the risks. The point is not to scare people into hoarding cash under their mattresses and never going online – it’s that consumers must take proactive measures to ensure their own online safety. With that in mind, here are some everyday tips that consumers can start using today to help proactively secure personal and financial information.
Steps Adults Can Take to Mitigate Online Risks
Always use strong password safety measures
- Do not save passwords in your browser for auto login.
- Do not use the same password for everything.
- Make your password a sentence – you can use upper- and lowercase letters, punctuation, numbers and even spaces!
- Do not use your name for any part of the password.
- If possible, enable strong authentication (using your smartphone, for example, to get a code to log in from unknown devices).
- Be smart about security questions; do not use information easily found on social media profiles.
Browser best practices
- Clear cache.
- Clear downloads.
- Block popups.
Bank online, check your accounts regularly and set up alerts
- It might seem counterintuitive to manage finances online if the main concern is safety, but being able to proactively monitor your account online helps ensure you have up-to-the-minute information whenever you need it.
- Log in to your account frequently (e.g., at least once per day) to ensure there has been no malicious activity.
- Set up alerts to notify you of large purchases/withdrawals or low balances.
Regularly update operating systems and software with the latest security patches
- Although constantly restarting phones and computers can be annoying, making sure that operating systems are up to date is a good way to ensure hackers and thieves cannot bypass exploitable security protocols on devices.
Verify the authenticity of websites, especially when purchasing or downloading items from that site
- Always check URLs when navigating online and ensure the web address for the site you’re visiting is correct.
- Example 1: You want to purchase something from Best Buy online. You click on a link from a Google search that takes you to www.bestbuying-online.com. Since Best Buy’s website is www.bestbuy.com, you are potentially on a site whose purpose is to steal personal and financial information.
- Example 2: You are trying to download the latest version of Microsoft Office for your computer. Ensure the URL is correct (as indicated in the first example) but also make sure you click on the correct link to download. On many third-party sites there will be “click bait” (explained further later) all around the page to try and lure rogue clicks and open new windows or initiate malicious downloads.
Always continue learning
- The single greatest piece of advice is to never get complacent. Hackers and identity thieves are constantly changing their approaches, so it is crucial to stay abreast of new developments and vulnerability trends.
The advice above can be useful for adults, but it is not just adults who need to be mindful of online safety. The entire family must also practice safe social media habits and be very careful with the information they share, especially young children and teenagers.
Advice for Parents of Young Children, Teenagers and Beyond
Make sure children are not posting unsafe or harmful content on social media. Examples can include but are not limited to:
- Location of their home, school, church etc.
- Illicit behavior (drinking, partying, general mischief, etc.)
- Checking in at different locations to indicate where your family is at a given time
Be vigilant regarding gaming systems
- One might not think about it, but there are online communities built around specific gaming systems or specific games. It is a blind spot for many parents and can leave children open to being contacted by predators. It is important to talk to children about the games they play and who they connect with online.
Don’t fall for “click bait”
- Educate your children (and yourself!) about click bait. Many times malicious content can look like an advertisement or a link to download free software. Telltale signs of click bait can include but are not limited to embellished titles, obscure or overly engaging images or intense motion or colors within an ad.
- Make sure to talk to your family about the severe nature and consequences of cyberbullying.
- Check social media accounts for signs of bullying (e.g., insults, threats, intimidation).
Always be actively involved in online activities
- The single best advice is to simply be involved, talk to children and young adults about their online activities; if something does not seem right, it likely is not.
Though it might seem intimidating and overwhelming at times due to the number of threats and the ever-changing nature of online vulnerabilities, taking the above precautions will hopefully engender confidence about taking control with proactive online safety measures. As long as users take ownership of their online identities and use caution, they can take full advantage of the many benefits of the internet now and in the future.