Geraldine Strawbridge

Geraldine Strawbridge is a graduate from the University of Glasgow. As the Editor of Cyber Radio, Geraldine is focused on delivering the latest cyber security news whilst making cyber security more relatable to people in their everyday lives.

How to Protect your Online Identity

 

Data breaches are happening on an almost daily basis and it has never been more important to protect your online identity.

Fraud is costing the UK economy an estimated £193 billion a year and recent research from Cifas found that the number of victims of identity theft has risen a staggering 57% in the last year.

Your personal information is extremely valuable to criminals. If they can get hold of your name, address, phone number or banking details, they can use this information to steal your identity and commit fraud.

This information can in turn be used to open accounts, apply for loans, benefits, or they may even chance their arm at trying to obtain a driving licence or passport.

Criminals may be able to glean a large amount of this information from bank statements or paper documents, but increasingly the easiest way for them to gain access to this priceless data is by going online.

It’s unbelievable how much information the criminals can extract from social media platforms, or how easy we make it to break into our accounts by choosing passwords that could be hacked within minutes.

Thankfully there are a number of steps we can take to protect our online identity to ensure we don’t become the latest victim of identity fraud.

1. Use Strong Passwords

Creating a strong password provides the first line of defence in protecting your online identity. One of the easiest ways for criminals to hack into your accounts and steal personal and financial information is to guess passwords.

With so many passwords to remember, it can be tempting to use the same password for multiple accounts, however this lapse in judgement can provide a hacker with easy unrestricted access to all your sensitive data.

To protect your password from being hacked, it’s best to create a password that is between 15-20 characters long, contains a mix of upper and lowercase letters, and include numbers or symbols.

2. Check Social Media Privacy settings

Social Media is great for catching up with friends, however oversharing too much online can put us at great risk of identity theft or even a home burglary. Criminals can collect a huge amount of data about you from your social media profiles.

Whether you’re on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn, check the site’s privacy policy and use security and privacy settings to control who is able to see your personal information.

Be careful who you accept friend requests from, and try not to share too much information that could reveal where you live, when you’re away on a holiday or any other personal data that could compromise your identity.

3. Avoid Public Wi-Fi

There’s no doubt that using public Wi-Fi is a quick, convenient, and free way to go online, however it opens us a up to a range of security risks that can threaten our online identity.

Public Wi-Fi requires no authentication to establish a network connection, allowing criminals direct access to any unsecured devices on the same open network. This enables hackers to steal valuable information such as login passwords, credit card info and other personal and financial details.

Unsecured Wi-Fi networks may also be used to spread malware allowing criminals unrestricted access to everything on your device. This information can in turn be used to commit identity fraud, or the information can be sold on to criminal third parties

4. Avoid Phishing Emails

Phishing continues to be one of the most popular ways for criminals to steal personal information and commit identity fraud. The speed, convenience and high return on investment makes it one of the easiest ways for criminals to steal your personal data without you even knowing.

The most common type of phishing scam involves tricking people into opening an email or clicking on a link which may appear to come from a reputable source. Trust your gut if you think there’s something not right about the email and remember that legitimate businesses will never send you an email asking you to click on a link to update personal information.

5. Always use secure websites

The easiest way to check if the site you are on is secure is to check the URL. At the start of all web addresses you will see either a ‘http’ or a ‘https’. If the site’s URL starts with a ‘http’, it means the site is not secure and any information you share on this site could be intercepted.

Always use a site that starts with https as the ‘s’ stands for secure and ensures that all communication between your browser and the website you are visiting is encrypted. This reduces the chance of your personal data falling into the wrong hands.

6. Check bank statements regularly

It’s always worth keeping a close eye on bank statements to make sure there are no unusual transactions on your account. Criminals will often make a few initial debits for smaller amounts, which tend to go unnoticed, then go in for the kill and make a larger payment which could clean out your bank account and leave you in the red.

7. Update Security Software

The installation of anti-virus software will help detect threats on your computer and block unauthorised users from gaining access. It’s also important to ensure that your software is regularly updated to prevent cyber criminals from gaining access to your computer through vulnerabilities in older and outdated systems.

8. Shred sensitive documents

Your personal information is what identity thieves are after and gaining access to the paper copies of your bank statements, payslips or any other mail that may contain personal identifiable information is one of the easiest ways for them to steal this data. Always shred and properly dispose of any sensitive information to ensure it can’t be used to identify you and commit fraud.

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