Safety isn't just about health. In today's digital age, keeping your identity safe is paramount. I've had my credit card stolen, and I can tell you, it's not a fun experience. It's a very arduous process to track down charges made by a stranger and have them reversed. My father had his brokerage account hacked as well, which was a very stressful experience. Fortunately he was able to get his money back, but many people aren't so lucky.
Identity theft and other breaches of cyber security are a relatively new form of invasive, criminal activity. A stolen identity can be devastating not only financially but emotionally as well. You can stay safe from this threat through care and vigilance.
Thieves can use even a little information to figure out a whole lot about you. Your date of birth, address, driver's license information, Social Security number, sex/gender, credit card numbers, and so on are all great boons to someone planning a cyber crime. How do they get this information? They can redirect your mail, steal data from a computer, steal your mail, steal your purse or wallet, or even go dumpster diving right outside your home. Unfortunately, some people will go to great lengths to make a living through dishonesty.
Take these pointers to heart, and keep yourself safe from identity theft and cyber attack:
- Don't carry your essentials. Unless it is specifically required at the time, don't carry essential documents with you like your Social Security card, birth certificate, or passport.
- Shred. Use a shredder to destroy any papers that may carry sensitive information before you discard them.
- Be wary of phone callers. Be careful when giving your info over the phone. Someone unscrupulous might easily pose as a telemarketer, a survey taker, or even a distant relative. Not giving out too much personal information over the phone may sound like common sense, but it is easy to forget some of these basic safeguards.
- Limit downloads from websites you don't know. This is an easy way to allow a virus or other tracking program into your computer, jeopardizing all your files and information, and possibly that of your friends. Be confident the site is authentic before you proceed.
- Update your antivirus and spyware detection tools frequently. Install a firewall to protect your home computer network. When you are not using your computer, turn it off.
- Avoid banking by email. You should never respond to email from what you think are financial institutions. Some phishing emails do a great job of mimicking the look and feel of companies you may trust. If you need to communicate with your financial institution, go directly to their website and use the secure login.
- Take care when shopping online. Purchasing items online potentially carries a similar risk. When shopping online, check on the authenticity of the website to make sure it is approved as secure, especially before divulging credit card information.
- Destroy old electronic components when you are upgrading. Destroy your hard drive when you are ready to get rid of an old computer. The same goes for your old cell phone. Don't discard either with data still on it, as it can be easily hacked.
- Remember where you are. If you are out and about and accessing a public Internet connection, don't send any sensitive information. Save your banking, shopping, and the like for a secure network you trust.
- Limit information on social networking sites. Don't be foolish and update your status with exactly how long you'll be leaving your house empty while you're on vacation. That's just a green light for a break-in. Consider using nicknames only on those kinds of sites, and never post your phone number, address, or other essential information. When joining a social networking site, it is best to set your privacy preferences before you get started, and then proceed with discretion.
Sanjay Jain is a US-trained Board Certified physician, with over 15 years of clinical experience. He is the author of the new book, OPTIMAL LIVING 360: Smart Decision Making for a Balanced Life (Greenleaf, February 2014). Sanjay represents a new wave of thought leadership and expertise developed not only from his medical and financial education, but also his life experiences. Follow Sanjay on Twitter at @sanjayjainmd and visit his website at SanjayJainMD.com.