The start of the new year often sees many of us making plans to ditch our bad habits, foster good ones, and start fresh. But remember: it's just as important to apply those new habits to protecting your identity and your personal information. Here are our recommendations for keeping your PII safe in 2015 and beyond!
Change your passwords. Create strong passwords by not using common words or phrases. Don't use your birthday, your kids' or pets' names, or anything else that could be easily guessed. Choose a mix of letters (both upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols—shoot for easy to remember/hard to guess. Use a different password for each of your logins, and consider changing your passwords every few months. The more unique passwords you have and the more often you change them, the harder it is for cyberthieves to gain access to your accounts.
Make sure your home computer and network are secured. Are you using a firewall? Is your antivirus software up to date? Is encryption enabled? Make sure all of these protections are in place, and check your system for any necessary patches or updates. To protect your home network, change your router's default password as well as your service set identifier (SSID). You should also disable remote administration and set up your router's Media Access Control (MAC) address filter. For more information, see our articles on Securing Your Computer and Securing Your Home Network.
Make sure your mobile devices are secured. If you haven't done so, set up a strong password and use your device's auto-lock feature. You should also make sure you've recently synced your data and that all patches or updates are up to date. You may want to disable your device's geotagging feature, which appends your messages and photos with your current location. Finally, make sure you're only downloading apps from reputable sources, and avoid sharing your device with others. For more information, see our article Securing Your Mobile Device.
Check in on your kids' online behavior. Social media and gaming trends change fast, so make sure you're up to date with what your children or teens are into these days. Take the opportunity to talk to your children about their online lives—ask them about the apps they use, the friends they chat with, and whether or not they've experienced cyberbullying. Create a conversation that lasts. It may be uncomfortable at first, but it will get easier. You may also want to take advantage of software tools and browser add-ons which monitor and control usage and ensure that searches, games, and surfing stay age-appropriate. You should also check the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB) for the rating of any new games your kids are playing. Lastly, check your child's social media usage and confirm their privacy settings. Set up alerts or controls if you think you need to. Learn more at our FAQ on Parental Controls.
Pull your credit reports. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide credit reporting agencies once a year. Mark your calendar to request one report every four months.
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Free reports can also be requested from www.annualcreditreport.com.
Check your social media privacy settings. Social media users tend to over share life details in order to feel connected to friends, family, and coworkers. But these private details can be used maliciously by cyberthieves to access sensitive accounts, create fraudulent identities, and compromise careers. For information on how to manage settings on specific social media platforms, see our article How to Check Your Social Media Privacy Settings.
Invest in a safe. Birth certificates, passports, Social Security cards, and any other documents containing PII should be stored securely—a safe is your best bet. If you don't own a safe, considering purchasing one; if you've already made this wise investment, make sure all your sensitive documents are carefully locked away.
Destroy digital data. Did you get new tech toys for the holidays? Don't forget to clean up your old ones before you junk them or pass them on. If you're getting rid of a computer, tablet, cell phone, hard drive, or digital storage device, ensure that all personal information has been removed first. Deleting data and reformatting hardware is not enough to keep a thief from recovering your information—instead, use a data removal product or check to see if local electronics retailers offer a removal service.
Make a date with your shredder. Identity thieves are not above diving into your trash can to steal your valuable information; don't provide them easy access to your receipts, credit card statements, health insurance information, and other PII. Invest in a micro-cut shredder if you don't have one already. If you do, make a sweep of your files to stay up to date.
Follow these tips, and your identity and personal information—and those of your loved ones—are much more likely to be safe and secure in 2015. Happy New Year!