Three Simple Steps to Protect Your Identity

In 2016, the Federal Trade Commission reported that identity theft was third on their list of complaints. Bottom line, it’s harder and harder to keep our identities safe. We get caught up in how easy it is to organize our lives with our phones and computers, from ordering online, to banking and paying the babysitter. Many of us are unaware of the dark web or how people steal our identities.

Every other day you hear about data breaches, Uber’s hack of 57 million accounts, Equifax affecting 145 million consumers and the latest Forever 21 a retail store that was infected with malware that hacked their customers’ credit cards.

Recently, I signed up for  Kim Komando’s newletter, Known as “America’s digital goddess”  Kim has a radio show on public radio and writes articles on technology so you and I can understand. Her emails are loaded with information, usually too much and too often that I consider them information overload. Consider yourself warned if you plan to sign up. When I do finally have the time to read them, I usually find useful information. I highly recommend her site if you’re looking for more in-depth information than what I present here.

You can do three simple things to secure your personal information. Don’t take anything for granted when it comes to your identity.  Be vigilant and know that what works today may not work tomorrow. The information highway is always under construction.

First, review your password inventory. The average person probably uses the same password for most of their apps because it’s easy and simple, and we all know I’m for simple. You may also use a spreadsheet or list to keep them all straight. I currently have over 75 entries on my spreadsheet. That’s a lot of passwords, and probably not safe from hackers if they really wanted to find them.

It’s time to clean up that list with a simple yet almost hack-proof method that is easy and requires little bookkeeping.

Reset Passwords

Choose a phrase that describes you, something that you won’t forget, such as “I love to travel,” or “stud muffin.” From there, choose how you will format it, lovetravel, stmuffin. Now choose a number to add because most sites will require a number. Again, choose something easy like your birthday, lovetravel9, stmuffin9. I would also choose a character so you’re ready if the site requires one. You can choose to add it to all your passwords or just the ones that require it. Make sure you notate that on your list.

Now, you have your basic phrase that you will use for all your passwords. With me so far? Don’t worry, it’s still okay to do this. You will still have a different password for every site, because you’re going to add to that password based on the site.

If you’re on Amazon for example, you can choose the first two letters or the first and last letter of the company name. Using the latter will probably be more cryptic, but may be more difficult if your company has more than one name. You might forget which part of the company name you took your second letter from.

Choose where you’ll add your extra letters. I think it’s easiest to put your site name in the beginning and then add your character at the end if needed, but again, it’s up to you. For your Amazon password you would have ANlovetravel9 and ANstmuffin9. I chose to capitalize the first two letters because passwords usually require capital letters.

The passwords are very clear to you, yet make little sense to the hacker. When you make your list of passwords, you won’t have to write down the actual password because you know your basic phrase. This is much safer than keeping the actual password. Just note how you formatted if it’s something that you might forget.

I’ve already changed the most important passwords, such as my financial websites and most frequented shopping sites. It’s a little awkward at first, but you’ll get used to it. If you find that this is still too confusing, you could try a password manager program. Check out Kim’s site for her recommendation.

Pick Your Protection

Another line of defense to consider is anti-virus software. Remember to treat your phone like a computer. This past year Kaspersky, a leading software firm made the news because of alleged ties to the Russian government. In September, Congress passed a bill to ban Kaspersky software being used on all government computers and Best Buy, Office Depot and Staples removed the software from their shelves.

I have used Kaspersky for years and have had no problems. It’s easy to use and covers three devices for the price of one. Be sure to sign up for Ebates first to get 10% back. Use my referral, and we’ll both get a little extra. After my subscription is up, I’ll do more research into the alleged accusation to see if I want to change.

There are many anti-virus software packages on the market. I wouldn’t use anything free. Fork out the money and purchase something reliable. Consider it identify insurance. PC Magazine provides some recommendations here.

Follow HTTPS Protocol

Lastly, when you are perusing your websites, make sure that the institution has an encrypted website. Look at the address and make sure the address starts with https. Some sites don’t start the encryption until after you log in. The problem with that is that hackers can steal your password.

If you’re one to sit in the coffee shop and do your shopping or banking, Kim Komando recommends a VPN (virtual private network). Free wi-fi now means free to obtain identity. Go to her site to find out more. There is a free one available. This would be a hassle for me, so I would avoid using the free wi-fi and use data. If you do choose VPN,  make sure the company website is using https because the VPN only safeguards from you to the server.

Changing your passwords may seem like a daunting task, especially if you have as many website logins as I do, but it needs to be done. At least take the top five most critical and get those out of the way. When you’re shopping for that software, change your password on your shopping sites. You’ll be killing two birds with one stone.

If you already have anti-virus software, make sure that you have everything updated and you have your phone covered.

Lastly, don’t forget to practice safe surfing by making sure your website is encrypted. Let’s start off the new year getting organized and keeping our identities safe.

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