5 Ways to Keep Your Personal Data Safe

financial advisor

By Joe Globensky, RFC®

personal data safe

Hopefully I don’t have to tell you how important it is to keep your personal data safe.  Whether it’s your social security or bank account numbers, information from your driver’s license, or items that can be pulled from your social media profile(s), today it seems like everyone is after it. 

And even if there is a legitimate reason to provide it, who knows if that recipient will one day get hacked.  Keeping your personal data safe is an ongoing effort so here are five easy ways you can protect yourself from prying eyes.

1. Use a Shredder

Ever hear of dumpster diving?  This is when someone goes through a trash dumpster looking for stuff they can use.  Sometimes this stuff includes documents that may include personal data.  With sufficient data, the dumpster diver can steal a person’s identity, money from their bank account(s), etc.

I always suggest that before you dispose of documents that include any kind of personal data you run the documents through a shredder.  Don’t own a shredder?  You might ask a family member or friend.  Maybe you do business with a company that will shred these documents for you.  You can also check your local area for a community event where shredding services are offered for free.

Tip: If you are relying on someone else to do the shredding, ask if you can watch to make sure it gets done to your satisfaction.

2. Watch Your Mail

It seems that nowadays items get “lost” in the mail on a regular basis.  Whether it’s due to poor service or, unfortunately, mail theft, you need to be diligent to keep your personal data safe. 

You should make a practice of taking your outgoing mail to a post office collection box or to the post office itself.  And make sure to check your mail daily.  In addition, you may have access to Informed Delivery which will allow you to preview your mail before it arrives so you can be on the lookout for anything important.  If you won’t be home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail, or ask a neighbor to collect your mail while you’re gone.

Tip: If you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.

3. Beware of Impersonators

Have you received a phone call recently from the Social Security Administration?  How about the Internal Revenue Service?  Or maybe you received an e-mail from your bank asking you to verify information.  These are some of the more popular ways hackers are attempting to collect your personal data, mainly in an attempt to steal your identity.  And they get more sophisticated every day.  Unfortunately, I bet we all know someone who has fallen prey to one of these scams.

Neither the Social Security Administration nor the IRS will make unsolicited, outbound phone calls to you.  Even if your caller ID says it’s them, it probably isn’t.  Most government agencies will contact you via mail, not phone.  And, that e-mail from your bank?  Make sure you check the e-mail address from where it originated before clicking on the link provided.  It’s even safer to just go directly to your bank’s website and login to your account to see if they have posted a message.  You can also call the bank to see if the e-mail was sent by them.

Tip: As these hacking attempts continue, you must remain vigilant to keep your personal data safe.

4. Keep Your Passwords Private

I checked this morning and I have 244 websites that require a username and password.  And that is after I went through and cleared the ones I no longer need.  That’s 244 username and password combinations that need to be strong, changed regularly, and remembered.  However, not a single one is written down.  How do I create strong passwords that I won’t forget, and that others can’t figure out?  I use a password manager.

With a password manager, you can have a unique and strong password for every secure website.  You won’t have to write them down the password manager saves them for you.  With most password managers you will only need to remember one master password to let you in. 

Tip: There are quite a few password managers out there so pick one that will work best for you.

5. Keep Your Devices Secure

So many devices, so little time.  But imagine how much time you will spend if you get hacked.  I wouldn’t wish that upon anyone, so take precautions now to prevent it from happening to you.

At a minimum, on your computer(s), make sure you have anti-virus and anti-spyware software installed.  And make sure automatic updates are turned on for these and your computer’s operating system.  Firewall software on laptops and a firewall appliance on your home network offer additional protection.  Protecting your laptop and desktop computers with encryption software is an added layer of security if they become lost or stolen.  Logging out and turning off your computer when you’re finished will make it harder for a thief to get at your personal information.

Be smart when using public wireless networks.  Did you know that the free Wi-Fi offered at McDonald’s, coffee shops, hotels, and airports is not safe to transmit your personal information?  If you find yourself using free Wi-Fi regularly, you might want to subscribe to a personal virtual private network (VPN) that will encrypt your internet traffic.

Tip: On your smartphones, make sure you have a screen lock setup and investigate whether your phone allows for encryption as well.

At Connections Financial Advisors, we are your friendly financial guide and ally to help plan for your future.  This includes educating you on how to keep your personal data safe, as well as many other topics.  To learn more about the services we offer, check out our website.  If you are ready to schedule a free, no-obligation introductory meeting, give us a call at (217) 605-8130.

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