When it comes to protecting personal information, you cannot rely solely on technical wizardry; your own behavior and practices make you more vulnerable or secure. Below are simple precautions and tools to remember when trying to keep your personal information safe.
Back it up
Drives go bad, devices are lost or stolen, and disasters happen. Pay particular attention to external storage devices, which run the gamut from inexpensive thumb drives to pricy multi-terabyte external hard drives. When using a thumb drive or other removable storage unit, ensure it is password protected. The manufacturer of the device likely provided information on how to secure it. It’s also a good idea to have additional copies of important files stored securely offsite in another trusted location. When it comes to data storage, hope for the best but plan for the worst.
Lock it up
Keep documents such as checks and financial records in locked drawers so the information is secure and out of sight from nosy visitors or intruders.
Before throwing something containing private information in the trash, shred it. Examples include receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and medicine bottle labels.
Password protect it
Protect your devices using difficult to guess passcodes and passwords. Always log off or lock your device when it’s not in use. Take advantage of multifactor authentication when offered. Multifactor authentication refers to security screening using two or more methods such as something you know (your user ID and password), additional responses to private questions (name of street you grew up on), something you possess (such as an ATM card or other security device), or a unique physical trait (a biometric such as your fingerprint). Some companies may require a password and then make you answer questions or enter a code sent in a text so you can access your account. Multifactor authentication makes it difficult for a hacker to access your information if your device is lost or stolen. For more information on creating secure passwords, read previous T.I.P. articles.
Keep your device’s operating systems patched and up-to-date to ensure any bugs or potential software weak points are fixed. Install anti-virus and anti-spyware software.
Make copies of important documents and store the hard copies and originals in different locations – with someone you trust, in a locked cabinet in your non-residential office, or in a safety deposit box. See the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s website for a list of documents you should have in case of a disaster.
Request and review your credit reports annually. Beware of imposter credit report websites. Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s website for free credit reporting tools and more information.
Review your Social Security earnings record annually to check for evidence of identity theft. To get your online statement, log in to your personal “my Social Security” account. If you see any inconsistencies, contact the Social Security Administration, which needs the public’s help in detecting identity theft.