Protecting Your Personal Info in Today’s Digital World

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By on April 14, 2019 in Current Events with 0 Comments

Smartphone sitting on a wooden surface with the word 'security' at the top of the screen above a security shield logo and a slider set to the 'on' position to indicate IT/cyber security

It’s tax season, so in addition to looking forward to paying your tax bill, in today’s modern world we also have to be alert to scammers and identity thieves who use it as an opportunity to steal your money and personal data.

Security Tips from the IRS

The IRS has provided some basic tips on protecting yourself during tax season. These include:

  • Secure your computer – keep software up to date and use virus and spyware cleaning software
  • Avoid phishing and malware – if you get emails, calls or texts that appear to be from the IRS or other well known companies asking for personal information, do not respond and be sure to verify the identity and source of the organizations by checking it on their websites
  • Protect your personal information – do not leave sensitive documents or info lying around in the open and limit what you post on social media. Never share passwords or other sensitive information with unknown individuals, and certainly do not leave them lying around or post them online.

Other Ways to Protect Your Information

These are some other things you can do to protect your personal information as well. This is not an exhaustive list by any means, but it provides some general information as a good starting point.

These include some things I use personally and which have served me well. Disclaimer: Anywhere you see my opinion about a product or service, it is mine alone; I am not a paid spokesperson!

Passwords

Passwords are a total pain in the butt, especially if we use them properly. By properly, I mean the things we are supposed to do but almost never do. This includes not using lame passwords like “12345” or “password” and not reusing the same password over and over. Raise your hand if you’ve done this before. Ah good, that’s pretty much all of us!

Enter LastPass. I love this software. It makes passwords simple, works with all major browsers and smartphones, and it’s free.

After you create an account, you can then add both passwords and secure notes to the system.

The browser plugins that can be used in conjunction with the service allow for automatically filling login forms on websites you visit with which you have a registered account. LastPass will even generate super-strong passwords for you when you create new accounts that you can fine tune by setting the number of characters to use and also whether or not it uses capital letters, numbers, or special characters. The more of each you add, the stronger it gets of course.

All you have to do is remember one password which is the master password for your account, so be sure to make this a good one. LastPass even offers multifactor authentication to help secure your account further. I use this as well for the added security.

Did I mention LastPass is free? Hard to beat that. It does offer premium options as well though, such as family share plans for organizing and sharing all of a family’s passwords.

LastPass employs very strong security methods to protect your data, but it’s always wise to use a very strong master password and take advantage of the multi factor authentication option.

Protecting Your Personal Information

Credit Monitoring and Insurance

You may want to consider using an identity theft protection service, but one that goes beyond monitoring. If a service only monitors your credit activity, it can let you know when a problem arises, but if your identity does get stolen, you still have to fix it which involves a lot of work.

Some ID services take this additional step and offer recovery solutions as well to fill this gap. Zander Insurance’s ID theft protection is one such plan. Lifelock also offers reimbursement for ID theft that happens when covered under its program along with resolution assistance. Utilizing a service like this can potentially offer consumers some additional protection and peace of mind.

Credit Freezes

Freezing your credit is good idea, especially if you do not borrow money, have no plans to borrow money in the near future, or will not be taking any actions in the near term that require use of your credit, such as opening a credit card or applying for a loan.

A freeze can be done at any of the major credit reporting agencies for free (Equifax, Transunion, or Experian all offer the option). It’s not permanent in the sense that you can also remove it in the future or lift it if you need to grant temporary access, such as to allow a company to do a credit check.

Freezing your credit will prevent somebody from opening new accounts in your name that require a credit check, but it’s not a security panacea. It won’t protect from other types of theft, such as tax fraud or medical related theft, and sometimes credit card companies will issue cards without checking credit. However, it is still one other option in your protection arsenal so it’s good to use.

I can attest to the process of freezing credit as I have frozen and unfrozen mine. It’s a relatively simple process that can be done online at each of the credit agencies’ websites.

Has it helped ward off any theft? Hard to say. I have had companies tell me they could not take action on my account because it was frozen, so that indicated it was doing what it was supposed to do for companies that bothered to check credit.

Handling Secure Data

Some other general tips:

  • Never send secure information, such as passwords, social security numbers, or financial information via email
  • Do not conduct sensitive activities such as logging into bank accounts on public wifi
  • If you are on public wifi a lot and need more security, consider using a VPN service to encrypt your connection. There are a number of options available; Norton VPN and Hot Spot Shield are a couple I have heard recommended, although I have not personally tried them.

In today’s world, our personal data is never going to be 100% safe all the time, but taking these kinds of steps can help to alleviate the risk of becoming a victim.

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© 2019 Ian Smith. All rights reserved. This article may not be reproduced without express written consent from Ian Smith.

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About the Author

Ian Smith is one of the co-founders of FedSmith.com. He enjoys writing about current topics that affect the federal workforce.

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