The internet has changed the way we connect and transact—in many ways, for the better. However, as we become increasingly dependent on digital platforms, it’s important to be aware of the associated threats to our personal privacy and security.
Indeed, identity theft reports in 2020 were more than triple the number from 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission. As hackers and identity thieves proliferate, knowing how to protect your privacy online is critical. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to secure your personal information, so you don’t become a victim of identity theft.
Consider these four steps to protect your privacy online:
Step #1: Secure Your Network and Devices
A good first step to protect your privacy online is to secure your home network and any devices connected to the internet.
Secure Your Home Wi-Fi
If left unsecured, your home wifi network can be a major threat to your personal privacy. Internet users nearby may be able to monitor your online activity, including sensitive information you share over the network. Not to mention, someone could use your network to conduct illegal activities.
To avoid these risks, be sure to encrypt your home network. Encrypting scrambles information sent through the network, reducing the risk that others will be able to breach your privacy. You can encrypt your home network by updating your router settings to either WPA3 Personal or WPA2 Personal.
Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks
When you access the internet through a public wifi network, your privacy and security are at risk–even when the network is password protected. The easiest way to protect your privacy online in a public area is to simply not connect to the wifi network. However, if doing so is unavoidable, consider using a virtual private network (VPN).
A VPN allows you to securely connect to public wifi by encrypting any data you send over the network. Though there are free VPN options available, it’s worth investing in a VPN service to protect sensitive information—especially if you travel frequently or work remotely full-time.
Update Your Operating System and Browser
If your operating system, browser, or antivirus software is outdated, hackers can compromise your devices more easily. To protect your privacy online, it’s important to routinely check for updates and install them when available. In addition, make sure your firewall is recent, as some versions no longer protect against today’s malware.
Use Strong Passwords
More than half of Americans surveyed admit they use the same password across multiple accounts, according to a recent report by SecureAuth. Unfortunately, if there’s a data breach on one of your accounts, any other account that shares that password is also vulnerable.
You can organize your passwords and protect your privacy online with a password manager. In addition, consider turning on two-factor authentication wherever possible, as it requires a second check to log into your accounts.
Step #2: Avoid Email Scams
About 200,000 new phishing sites crop up each month, according to the Anti-Phishing Working Group. To avoid these scams, a good rule of thumb is to never click on any suspicious links in an email, especially if you don’t recognize the sender. In addition, never share sensitive information like passwords, account numbers, or your social security number over email.
Step #3: Keep an Eye on Your Digital Footprint
Social media can make it very easy for people to access your personal information these days. If you’re active on social platforms, be mindful of what you share online. Certain details that may seem innocuous—like your birthday or phone number—can be useful to identity thieves and allow them to access more sensitive information.
In addition, it’s a good idea to keep an eye on what others post about you online in case they’re sharing information on your behalf. You can also set up a Google alert for your name and other people or organizations you’re closely associated with, such as your employer, so you’re notified when your digital footprint is updated.
Step #4: Monitor Your Credit
An effective way to protect your privacy online and catch potential data breaches early is to monitor your credit score and report. Unexpected changes can be a good indication that someone else is using your identity.
At a minimum, you should request a free copy of your credit report annually. There are also a variety of apps and services that alert you when there’s a change to your credit report. In addition, they allow you to monitor your credit more frequently. For example, many credit card companies include this service as a benefit for their customers.
If you believe your personal information has been compromised, you may want to freeze your credit temporarily. This prevents anyone from accessing your accounts without your specific consent.
Protect Your Privacy Online and Secure Your Financial Future
Identity theft can be emotionally and financially devastating. In some cases, it can damage your reputation and credit and impede your progress towards financial goals. As online scams and data breaches become the norm, it’s more important than ever to protect your privacy online.
A trusted financial advisor can help you safeguard your personal information and protect your assets. If Curtis Financial Planning can help you sleep better at night knowing your financial future is secure, please contact us.