By Jocelyn Baird, NextAdvisor.com
We all try to go about our days as smoothly as possible, but unfortunately, we live in a world where it seems like there are threats lurking around every corner. Even if you think you're doing things by the book, you are probably making a number of security mistakes every day that could potentially be costly to your identity and your life. Whether you're at home or on the go to work or play, there are critical things you can easily avoid by taking some time to think before acting.
Security mistakes you make at home
You have an easy-to-guess Wi-Fi password (or none at all). Although it might seem like less of a hassle to employ a simple password or not use one at all, leaving your home network unprotected is inviting trouble. Not only might neighbors without scruples connect to your Wi-Fi and hog the bandwidth you're paying for, but also criminals can easily hack into an unprotected network and steal your information. Additionally, be wary of connecting to unprotected networks in your area. Legally, you shouldn't do this anyway -- it is considered theft to use someone else's private Wi-Fi. But it is also dangerous, as some shady people set up fake networks in hopes people will connect and practically drop their data into their laps. Create a strong password for your Wi-Fi and try to change it on a regular basis. Some people even set up a separate guest network for visitors, which helps to keep your home network secure for members of the household.
Your life is documented on social media. The beauty of social media is that it lets us connect with friends and strangers all over the world. Many apps have popped up that let you share every little thing you do, whether it's the restaurants you eat at or the places you visit with your friends. Sharing is wonderful, when it's with friends and family, but if you don't keep a close watch on your privacy settings, you could be sharing all the information someone needs to know in order to steal your identity or rob your house while you're away on vacation. Get a grip on your security settings, and think before you share.
You throw bills and other documents straight into the trash. Junk mail is aggravating, but you put yourself at risk when you throw those pre-approved credit card offers directly into the trash. Many small-time thieves are not above dumpster diving, and they can use documents you throw away to steal your identity. The best solution is to invest in a shredder with cross-cut capability and shred any documents you plan to throw out. This will ensure peace of mind because it shreds papers into tiny confetti-like pieces, making it impossible for anyone to piece them back together.
Security mistakes you make at the office
Your personal life is not left at the office door. We're all guilty of checking our personal email when we're supposed to be working, but if you aren't careful, this could cost you more than just a reprimand. The workplace should be treated as a sacred space, separate from home. You might think there's no harm checking a few personal websites or keeping your own files on your work computer, but a data breach into your office network could result in more than just what the company keeps on file being stolen. Additionally, leaving papers with important information lying around your office puts you at risk. A lot of identity theft is committed by people you know, or those who have access to your home or business. Keep personal paperwork in a locked drawer or filing cabinet or, better yet, take it home.
You write passwords down on sticky notes. It can be difficult to remember all of the passwords we use each day, especially since it's now recommended that we make them longer and more challenging. Some offices require mandatory password changes every 30-90 days, and it might be tempting to cut corners by writing down your new password on a sticky note that you affix to your monitor. However, doing this is like leaving a key to your house dangling from a string on your porch. If you have trouble remembering your password, consider more secure manners of storing it, such as in a password manager app or locked file on your mobile device.
Security mistakes you make on the go
You use public Wi-Fi networks. Sure, it's convenient to connect to the free Wi-Fi in Starbucks or the airport, and you can certainly save on data charges from your carrier by doing so. However, these networks are unsecured and that makes them dangerous. Criminals can connect to these networks and use them as hunting grounds for data to steal from unsuspecting people around them. If you do choose to connect to a public network, take care not to use any apps or websites that deal with personal data -- such as banking or logging in to check on the status of your tax return. Out running errands and really need to check your account balance? Turn off Wi-Fi and use your mobile device's encrypted 3G or 4G network instead; this network is typically more secure than an unsecured, public Wi-Fi connection.
Private conversations aren't private in public. While it might be tempting to conduct business or catch up with a friend during your commute or lunch break, these conversations are rarely as private as you might think. Cell phones make it so we can connect with anyone from just about anywhere. It's convenient, but if other people are around not only are you potentially disrupting their peace and quiet, but you are also broadcasting everything you're saying to them. Talking about your weekend plans or providing the receptionist at your doctor's office with personal information, such as your Social Security number, over the phone makes you a potential target for criminals nearby. Make sure you use discretion in public and move to a private space, such as your car, when you must divulge sensitive information.
Although there is no foolproof way to prevent identity theft or other security risks, cutting down on the amount of easy-to-change mistakes you make on a daily basis can help make you less of a target. To learn more about identity theft protection, follow our blog on the subject.
This blog post originally appeared on NextAdvisor.com.