12 Tips to Protect Yourself and Your Personal Information

by Nicole on January 18, 2013

Posted in: Miscellaneous

SSN-identity-theft-big

Yesterday, I found out that I’m the victim of identity theft. What does that even mean? Well, to be perfectly candid with you; I’m still trying to figure that out myself.

I’ve always taken my security seriously — I follow all the password rules. Capital letter, lowercase letter, numbers, characters.  I don’t hand out my SSN all willy-nilly. I’m careful about who I talk to. I tear up my mail before throwing it away. Scratch out names on pill bottles.

But on the other hand, I always figured that if something like this ever happened, I could get out of it.  I could figure it out. I could sue. I could call the police. I could fix it.

Well guess what? It’s not that easy.  And what’s worse is that I never once thought about the impact something like this would have on the way I feel. I feel unsafe. Insecure. I feel vulnerable. I feel like I’m under attack. I’m worried about my future. Worried about what this person could attack next. I’m scared.

Someone hacked my email and used personal information found within my email account to empty one of my accounts and wire the money … a lot of money … to a bank account on the other side of the country.  If it can happen to me, it can happen to you.

I’ve learned a lot while going through this and trying to navigate this new landscape of having to prove to people that I am who I say I am, trying to protect my funds, my home, myself. Trying to pick up the pieces, put them back together, and function.

Thanks to our local police, the FTC, and a few hours of my own research; I’ve put together a list of 12 things that you should probably know about your online safety … and the safety of your finances and personal information.

So, in no particular order … here are 12 things that can help keep you (and your personal information, funds, identity) safe online:

  1. Change your passwords and change them often. I followed every password rule out there. My password had a capital letter, a few lowercase letters, some numbers, and an exclamation point.  I still got hacked and robbed.
  2. Don’t use the same password twice. I had the same password for just about everything. Bad idea. Whoever victimized me could potentially have accessed a TON of my other accounts … and I have no idea.  Use different passwords for everything … Paypal, Amazon, Bank Accounts, etc.
  3. Use two factor authentication wherever you can. Um what? Yeah. That’s what I said. Facebook offers it, it’s called “login approvals” — Google has it too, called “Google Authenticator.” Use both. Religiously. What this type of service does is provides a second layer of security.  In addition to your password, you’ll be prompted to answer a question, provide a pass phrase, or a second password or code to access your information.  Makes it a lot harder for scammers and hackers to get to your information.
  4. Never, ever send your signature or account numbers via email. And if you absolutely must (as in don’t have any other choice, period), delete the email immediately after sending it. Sending a fax may sound like something our forefathers did back in the days before the internet, but it’s a hell of a lot safer.
  5. Don’t save important documents in your email. Your email is not safe.  Understand and believe that. If someone gets into your email, all it takes is a quick search of a word like “account” or “social” or “funds” or “money,” you get the picture. That’s all it takes to have all of your sensitive personal information at their fingertips. It’s really that easy.
  6. Ask for  all of your financial institutions to require additional authentication to withdraw funds. Every bank and credit union will do this. Whether it’s a pass phrase, an answer to a security question, a fingerprint, or an additional password … ask for it.  Oh, and never, ever use your mother’s (or your own) maiden name. That’s the most predictable password/security question out there.
  7. Check the “details” link in your Gmail, and activate alerts. If you scroll to the bottom (once you’re logged in) of your gmail account, you’ll see a small link in the right-hand corner that says “details.” Clicking it will display a list of all recent connections to your account … and their IP addresses. Know your IP address (and the IP of your cell phone). In that same window, you can activate alerts. Google will send you an email any time there’s suspicious activity (different or multiple IPs accessing your account).
  8. Limit what you carry. When you go out, only take what you need. And never, ever wander around town with your social security card or passport.
  9. Opt out of prescreened credit card and insurance offers. You can opt out for 5 years or permanently … call 1-888-567-8688 or click here. If you don’t do this, tear up or shred all the credit card offers you get in the mail. Don’t just throw them out … you’re inviting someone to open a card in your name.
  10. Guard your social security number. If a form asks for it, don’t assume you absolutely have to provide it. Always ask. Only provide it if absolutely necessary. Most places are a-ok with you not providing it … so keep that in mind.
  11. Beware of wi-fi. Free wifi at the Starbucks around the corner is great … but it’s unsecured.  Anyone could hack into that network … so don’t share personal information when on an unsecured, public network.
  12. Keep an eye on your credit score. If you know you’ve been good about paying bills on time, not being spendy with your credit cards, and your credit score is low … that’s a red flag.  Be aware and check it quarterly.  Better safe than sorry.

Here are a few other sites and tools that can help:

Good luck, stay safe. Trust me … it’s much better to go through the hassle of updating passwords and being more careful than having to spend days on the phone with the FTC, working with police, closing bank accounts, cancelling credit cards, and worrying for your safety.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

molly @ still being molly January 18, 2013 at 8:55 pm

thank you SO much for this, nicole! i’m so sorry that happened to you, but hopefully many people will learn and be more protected!!

Reply

Nicole January 18, 2013 at 9:03 pm

Thank YOU, Molly. I just hope people start being smarter. Hopefully we can raise some awareness and try to educate folks!

Reply

Jennifer January 19, 2013 at 1:12 pm

Nicole, I’m so sorry this happened to you. If there is anything you need, just say the word. Thank you for these tips. I’m definitely going to start changing my passwords. These tips are very helpful. I hope things get better very soon!!

Reply

Nicole January 21, 2013 at 3:02 pm

Thank you, thank you!

Reply

Ariella January 23, 2013 at 12:42 am

I’m sorry you had to go through all of that, hun. I definitely took your advice and added some of the extra security features. I also opted out of the credit card stuff. I generally shred it anyway, but that’ll be less crap mail clogging up my mailbox. Thank you for all of the tips.

Reply

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: