How to Protect Your Personal Data Online

Craig Seligman |

Data breaches, once a fairly rare occurrence, have become more frequent as hackers become more skilled in their ability to extract personal data from popular social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter. And while we commonly hear about breaches from these large, global organizations, it’s important to remember that small businesses are just as likely to experience a data breach, meaning your information that is stored at you CPA’s office, your attorney’s office, or your local medical center can be vulnerable to a breach at any time. On a side note, Experian is predicting that wireless devices will become vulnerable to hackers in 2019.

Unfortunately, if you have conducted business online at any time, or use any of the popular social media sites, you’re vulnerable to having your data (and possibly your identity) stolen. But there are a few things you can do to protect yourself:

  • Restrict the information you post on social media. This doesn’t necessarily mean restricting posts, although that can be helpful if you tend to provide too much information. Instead, remove any identifying information such as your cell phone number, email address, and your birthday from your online profile. You many also want to stop answering some of those pesky quizzes that ask you a lot of personal information, that can possibly be used against you. Finally, consider using the privacy settings that all social media sites offer, restricting access your information or your posts.  
  • Restrict the information you provide to retailers. I’ve noticed that many retailers ask for your phone number when you’re purchasing an item. Don’t give it out. Better yet, pay cash if possible when purchasing something. That way the store has no personal information on file that can be useful should they be hacked.  
  • Be especially aware of phishing. Phishing has become a profitable endeavor for hackers, who have perfected the scheme with their ability to recreate emails to appear as if from a trusted source such as your bank, credit card company, or cell phone provider. Never provide confidential information to anyone based on an email request. When you do receive an email that you’re unsure of, spend a few moments verifying its validity. Those few extra minutes minutes could save you months, if not years in legal battles, and potentially, thousands of dollars. Verify.  It’s important.
  • The same advice provided above also applies to unsolicited phone calls. Never provide anyone with a credit card number, bank account number, or any financial information over the phone. While there are many companies that may be legitimate, it’s impossible to determine their legitimacy over the phone.
  • Stop using personal information for passwords. Using a birthday, an address, or a nickname can make it much easier for hackers to access your data. Instead, create complex passwords that are difficult to crack.
  • Always use reputable anti-virus software on all of your devices, and be sure that you keep it up to date, as new threats appear on a daily basis.

While you may not be able to prevent data breaches, be sure that you’re doing everything you can to keep your personal information safe from online crooks and criminals.

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