Your posts on social media. Your smartphone, your online family tree. Your birthday, ATM password, or credit history. All represent progress through technology. And all can be gateways for people with bad intentions. So, just how safe do you think your digital identity is?
The AARP Fraud Watch Network takes your digital identity seriously. With an ongoing collection of resources, articles and links, you can more closely protect your online safety and that of your family (while the AARP’s focus is on retirees, the network helps anyone). A free helpline even offers callers the opportunity to speak with people trained in fraud counseling.
15 Resources To Help Protect Your Digital Identity
The network was launched five years ago, after a year in which there were 12.6 million victims of identity theft. Some of its earliest tips:
- Go to the trouble to create hard passwords. Avoid family names and birthdates, pet names, and sequential numbers. Use uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and punctuation. If it’s hard to keep up with, use a password manager – websites and apps that help you create and store passwords. A few that AARP mentions are Dashlane, 1 Password, Roboform, True Key, Keeper, Sticky Password, Last Pass and ZOHO Vault.
- Delete any email (or send it to your spam folder) that says it’s from your bank or internet provider that wants you to give or confirm personal information. If you think it may be legitimate, look up a phone number from a different source and call to ask whether the company sent the email.
- Similarly, never give out or confirm personal information to a telemarketing call – or any call from someone you don’t recognize, even if they claim to have links to family members; this is a common tactic of con artists preying on unsuspecting consumers. Also, cut down on telemarketing calls at donotcall.gov (the National Do Not Call Registry) or (888) 382-1222. (A 2018 report from First Orion, a telecommunications company, says that fraudulent calls are only increasing. And if you think your mobile phone is safer than your land line, that safety zone is coming to an end; in 2017, only 3.7 percent of mobile calls were fraudulent, but that number rose to 29 percent in 2018 and is expected to be more than 44 percent in 2019.)
- Go to optoutprescreen.com to opt out of pre-screened applications for credit cards or insurance. Thieves can steal them and use them to apply for credit in your name.
- If someone comes to your door offering home-repair or product sales, follow the same cautions. Don’t give out personal information. Take down their information and tell them you’ll contact them after you verify their identity. If they are legitimate, they won’t mind.
All of the most significant security breaches on the internet have occurred in the last five years – 3 billion Yahoo identities and 360 million MySpace users in 2016; 150 million Under Armour identities in 2018; 145.5 million Equifax accounts in 2017; 145 million Ebay accounts in 2014; 110 million Target-card users in 2013. In fact, there are so many data breaches today that an April 2018 USA Today list of major incidents doesn’t even include those that affected fewer than a million users.
So what else can you do to protect yourself?
- Start with the Fraud Watch quiz– eight true/false questions – to learn about your online security IQ.
- Protect your bank accounts: Monitor your online balances, use a password manager, check your credit report regularly, and make sure you’re set up to receive fraud alerts from your financial institutions.
- Scams by state: Check to see what scams are occurring where you live. By clicking on the red exclamation points on the map, you’ll see information on law enforcement alerts, robo-calls, company scams, fake jury duty, fake charities (especially after natural disasters), fraudulent text offers, and more, including telephone scams (one current scam tells the person who answers the phone that a relative is in jail and needs bail money; another tells the answerer that they have criminal charges filed for non-payment with the IRS and leaves a phone number. When that number is called, a person answers saying they are with the IRS. And you probably guessed this part: If the answerer sends money, the charges will be dropped).
- Clean up your social media identity. Is your email address or your phone number a part of your social media profile? Do you really understand how to tighten down your Facebook privacy settings? (And just as importantly, do your children?) Is your entire employment history available on Linked In? Do you use your birthdate as part of your user name on the web? Do you post vacation photos when you’re out of town (making your home a safe target for thieves)? While all of these are relatively normal functions of sharing with friends and family on the internet, each one of them can make you vulnerable to identity theft.
- Protect your computer. This seems obvious, but it’s one of the most critical parts of the process. You must have up-to-date virus and malware software installed. You must back up your data, either to the cloud or to a portable hard drive. Make sure your home wireless network is password-protected. And check out more of these digital protection tips from Digital Guardian, a cyber-security software company.
- Above all, stay aware. You can call the AARP Fraud Helpline at 877-908-3360 if you have questions or need advice. Listen to its weekly podcast, The Perfect Scam, which tells the personal stories of scam victims and interviews experts and professional con artists. Sign up for the Fraud Watch Network with your name, email address and ZIP code, to receive alerts for your area. And report anything that seems suspicious to the network, which will add it to the Scam-Tracking Map and help keep others informed.