Imagine the violation you’d feel upon learning your stolen contact information from the Department of Motor Vehicles helped fuel a robbery spree from car rental agencies in the Midwest, as happened to me several years ago.
Now add to that the Internet age and swap out driver’s license number for checking account number or money market access code.
If you just felt the tingling sensation of those little hairs on the back of your neck standing at attention at the thought, consider yourself in good company. Much of the populace remains in a constant state of fear of private information being accessed online with malicious intent, with a special degree of fear reserved for the financial domain.
While the first order of business is to always be wary in this day and age, there are other easily attainable steps to protect your online statements and other personal information.
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Know you’re sharing your personal information online with
Just as you shouldn’t give out personal information on the phone or through the mail, nor should you give out information over the Internet unless you have initiated the contact or know the receiving entity.
This goes double for sharing your Social Security number.
If you receive an email from a company that claims to have an account with you and is asking for personal details, do not click on any links in that email. Instead, do an online search of that company name and make contact with them yourself, if you’re so inclined.
Otherwise, better to ignore all such requests and save yourself the possible nightmare of an unwanted ‘phishing’ expedition of your online access and contact details.
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Dispose of your devices safely
When you upgrade that personal computer, make sure to “cleanse” the older model before you donate or dump it.
Seek out a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive to make sure all the personal information stored on that computer is cleared off.
Same goes for the pre-disposal process of outdated mobile devices. You should consult the manual or the service provider’s website on the most comprehensive method to permanently delete information. On many devices, you can remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card physically from the device.
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Keep your existing devices secure
Though a fleeting hassle, the use of strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank and other valuable online accounts is well worth the extra effort and often can be aided by personal memory devices.
A helpful example is to think of a phrase with meaning for you, pluck the first letter of each word and swap out some letters for numbers.
For example, “I love to listen to jazz” could translate to 1l2LtJ.
Be sure to protect your laptop with anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and a firewall. When installing these applications, set preferences to automatically install updates frequently. You shouldn’t “go to war” against an unknown hacking community without the latest weapons.
And, before you view or share sensitive online documents at a public space, such as a coffee shop, airport or library, remember you’re at the mercy of others and their Wi-Fi security.
If you use an encrypted website, only the information you send to and from that site is protected. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information sent on that network is protected.
Know your privacy policies
Lastly, it’s worthwhile to read up on those admittedly long, dry privacy policies of other parties with whom you share online information. Learn how those parties monitor access, security and control of the personal information collected and what is done with it when collected. If the policy doesn’t make sense, seek out another party.
In my personal travails from years ago, the party that let me down was the Department of Motor Vehicles. My end result was a new driver’s license number and nasty stares at car rental agencies to this day.
With online financial protection, the preventative steps may be disruptive and time-consuming, but the potential risk couldn’t be greater.
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