According to a study from Verizon, 74% of successful cyberattacks or unintentional data leaks stemmed from social engineering, human error, or misuse of technology. That means most incidents reported in 2023 could have been prevented with better cybersecurity practices.
Unfortunately, in the case of cybersecurity, one bad habit can lead to the exposure of millions of individuals’ personally identifiable information. This sensitive information includes Social Security numbers, date of birth, addresses, credit card information, medical information, and more. That data is often sold on the dark web where it can be used to steal your identity and commit fraud, leading to $8.8 billion in losses for Americans in 2022.
Although you can’t oversee the IT department of every company that handles your data, there are simple ways you can protect yourself from identity theft, even if your data is exposed in a data breach or cyberattack.
Here are a few ways you can build better cybersafety habits offline and online:
Ways to Protect Your Sensitive Personal Information Offline
Safeguard your Personally Identifiable Information
The first step to protecting your identity is knowing what sensitive information needs to be shielded from bad actors. Known as personally identifiable information or PII, this sensitive information could include your:
- Social Security Number
- Full Name
- Mother’s Maiden Name
- Passport Numbers
- Driver’s License Number
- Credit Card Information
- Bank Account Details
- Medical Identification Numbers
- Medical Records
Keep all physical documents with this information and credit cards that you don’t regularly use, stored in a fireproof lockbox. For documents you no longer intend to keep, shred them before tossing them in the garbage. Never carry your Social Security card or other sensitive documents in your wallet or purse.
Professionals working in industries that handle this sensitive data are required to follow strict guidelines to protect it. However, data breaches still happen. If you're asked to divulge sensitive information on a form or to a professional, you can always ask for clarification on how it will be used. In certain cases, additional sensitive information is requested but not needed.For instance, cybersecurity experts often recommend leaving the portion of a standard medical intake form requesting your Social Security number blank when it’s not legally required.
One study from the Annals of Internal Medicine indicated that Social Security numbers are taken in more than 70% of hospital data breaches. Still, many doctors or their staff will ask for your Social Security number. Generally, your Social Security number is only required if you’re a VA hospital patient. Know the law and your options to safeguard your PII. You may have the right to refuse to divulge your sensitive information, but the doctor also has the right to not see you as a patient.
Watch your mailbox
Despite all the ways that criminals can exploit technology to gain access to your information, old school crime like mail theft is still common. A rash of robberies targeting blue collection boxes in Minnesota resulted in more than 900 stolen checks. As a result, the USPS advises senders to avoid leaving mail with financial or personal information in blue collection boxes. Instead, take sensitive mail inside your local post office to securely send it.
Be sure to keep a watchful eye on mail that is delivered as well. Despite the opportunity to intercept it, documents with sensitive and personal information are still delivered to your mailbox. Any of these documents could compromise your security and lead to identity theft.
Review your credit card and bank statements
Autopay is great for avoiding those pesky late fees, but cybercriminals bank on you taking a set it and forget approach to your financial statements. Statistics from the FTC show that credit fraud is the most common type of identity theft. Oftentimes, they’ll start with small purchases to avoid detection from you and the credit card company or bank. So, be sure to regularly review the charges on your credit card and other financial accounts to ensure there is no suspicious activity.
In some cases, credit card companies proactively alert you to extravagant charges or when the card is swiped in another state or country. However, if you’re like the average American with nearly 4 credit cards or more, juggling communications from multiple vendors can be annoying to review charges.
With IDSeal, you can have all of your personal and financial accounts monitored in one place. Our Digital Spy feature will monitor up to ten of your credit cards, bank accounts, medical ID numbers, email addresses, phone numbers, plus membership and retail cards.
Protect Your Devices
A lost or stolen device can cost you more than the price of replacing it if your data isn’t protected. Be sure to enable login passwords, PINs, and two-factor authentication on your devices as well as all apps installed on them that are linked to any personal or financial accounts.
If you’re storing documents with personally identifiable information on your devices, create a virtual lockbox by encrypting them. Searching for these documents manually can be a pain, so use a tool like IDSeal’s Pro-Tec to detect PII within your documents. Once the scan is complete, you can use Pro-Tec to store all sensitive documents in an Encrypted Document Vault.
Before selling or donating electronics, be sure to wipe all sensitive files and data from them. Simply deleting a file won’t do the trick. You’ll need to use the secure delet command in the operating system. Look for a “Reset this PC” option with a PC or “Erase All Contents and Settings” if using a Mac.
Be Suspicious of Phone Calls
Anyone can be the victim of identity theft and fraud, but data from the FTC shows that older adults who reported losing money to a scam said that it started with a phone call. Meanwhile, younger consumers were more likely to get duped on social media or lose money to an online shopping scam.
Criminals use any mode of communication to manipulate you into handing over sensitive information that can lead to identity theft. This type of manipulation known as social engineering can be conducted over the phone, via email, text message or a myriad of other mediums. If anyone contacts you to request your personal information claiming to be helpful tech support, or that you’re the lucky winner of a giveaway, be skeptical.
How to Protect Your Private Data Online
Better Password Hygiene
Recycling passwords is like leaving your car door unlocked, the keys in the visor, a map to your house in the passenger seat, and the security code to your alarm in a note on the steering wheel. Using the same password over and over again creates a cascading cybersecurity threat to all your accounts.
Simply updating the same password you’ve had since you created your first Facebook account with a new number or exclamation mark at the end of it isn’t exactly mixing it up either. With the ubiquity of data breaches, chances are that password and many of its variations are floating around on the dark web. To prevent getting hacked, be sure to regularly update all your social media and financial accounts with unique passphrases (using special characters) and never use the same password twice.
Overcome the hurdle of trying to remember all those passwords with IDSeal’s Encrypted Password Vault. This feature allows you to easily store and manage passwords across accounts. See all of Pro-Tec's features here.
Never Connect to Public Wi-Fi without a VPN
The internet consists of countless networks to facilitate communications (like email and social messaging) sharing information, online shopping, streaming videos and more. Unfortunately, not all connections are secure and some content from websites ads contain malware.
Public Wi-Fi is especially unsafe as the network is shared by many users. The lack of encryption makes it easy for bad actors to intercept and access data transmitted from your device via public Wi-Fi.
A Virtual Private Network (VPN) creates a protective tunnel from your computer to another endpoint on the internet, giving you greater privacy and security.
Setting up a VPN is easy. You can use third party tools like IDSeal’s Pro-Tec to encrypt your internet connection anywhere with the click of a button.
Keep All Your Software Up to Date
Regularly updating the software on your computer will enhance performance and security. Sotware developers often release updates with patches and fixes for security vulnerabilities. Hackers constantly look for weaknesses in software to exploit. Failing to update your software in a timely manner could heighten your risk of data breaches and hacking. Plus, you’ll have access to the most up-to-date features to make your online experience more enjoyable and work more productive.
Beef Up Your Cybersecurity Toolkit with IDSeal
Personal computers are at a heightened risk of cyberattacks because they’re more often targeted by hackers, but mobile devices aren’t immune. Operating systems like Windows and macOS come with basic built-in antivirus software, so many users opt to purchase additional cybersecurity tools for added peace of mind.
With 16 device privacy and protection features, IDSeal’s Pro-Tec gives you the cybersecurity tools to upgrade your identity theft prevention.
In addition to Antivirus, you’ll find other high in-demand cybersecurity features like:
- Ad Blocker
- Malware Protection
- Encrypted Documents Vault
- Safe Browsing Protection
- And more
Protecting your identity starts with protecting your data. That's why every IDSeal identity theft protection plan comes with Pro-Tec. Install the app on to up to ten devices with our Family Plans to protect everyone you love from cyberthreats.
But the protection doesn’t stop there with IDSeal. With the growing number of data breaches, exposure to identity theft may be inevitable. Fortunately, if your sensitive information is compromised, you can rest easy knowing you’re covered with up to $1 million in identity theft insurance and access to 24/7 Recovery Specialists to assist you.