It’s an age of digital crime and cyber hacking… not to mention your nosey neighbors and others who may be prying into your personal information!

If someone hacks your account or steals your personal data, you’re at risk for expensive identity theft that can drain your bank accounts or credit cards and require hours of time dealing with the fallout. Someone could apply for cash advances online and you would be responsible to pay it back. Then, you’ll have to dispute those transactions you didn’t make and spend endless time on the phone listening to annoying hold music, explaining over and over that your credit card was stolen.

If a vindictive ex, curious mother-in-law, or jealous co-worker hacks onto your social media accounts. Imagine what could happen next. Messages sent that look like they were from you?  Private messages being posted to the public?

So, the big question is, how can you best protect yourself from prying eyes and cyberspies?  What precautions can you take to protect your privacy?

Thankfully, a few simple steps can make a huge difference in the security of your private information.

  1. Basic Common Sense

I shouldn’t need to remind you of these, but let’s talk basic common sense.

Simple Rules of Online Security:

  • Don’t use the same password on multiple sites. If you find it challenging to remember your passwords, use a tool that saves your personal data such as RoboForm or LastPass.
  • Use secure passwords. Include capital letters, lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
  • Think before you share. If you wouldn’t want your Grandma to hear or see it… Don’t share it online. If it’d be a problem if that private message or photo were printed on a giant billboard, then don’t hit send. Period.
  1. Create an “Alternate” Identity

Your mother’s maiden name? It’s now “Jones” or “Smith” or “Anderson”.

Your date of birth? Try 1-1-1975.

Place you were born? New York City.

Social engineering attacks use your publicly available details (Is your hometown listed on your Facebook profile?  How about your birthday?)to hack into your accounts with your security questions.

So create an “alternate” identity you use to answer security questions with. That way only YOU know the actual answers to those security questions.

Then, even your mother can’t hack into your accounts.

  1. Don’t Print It – If You Must, Shred It

Switch to online or email billing as often as possible. It saves trees.  And it protects you from those who might look through your trash (yes, it happens!) or snoops through your files.

If you MUST print a document or receive sensitive data in the mail, shred it as soon as possible afterward.

For critical business records use an external hard drive that’s encrypted and secured.

  1. Don’t Share Too Much

Planning a vacation? Please don’t share the dates on social media!  It’s like a big “burglars welcome ” sign…  Instead, share your photos after you return.

Don’t fill in more personal details that are necessary for any profiles or questionnaires. If the site doesn’t require your hometown, don’t add it. Look for optional fields and only fill in the ones that are required.

  1. Always Question

To avoid scams online, don’t ever click a link in an email and enter your info!  Stop and ask, “Is this legit?”

If you aren’t sure, call the company or go directly to their secure website to log in, not through email.

Anytime your personal data is requested, stop and ask, is this NEEDED? If not, speak up!  You don’t have to give your personal info only because someone asked for it.

  1. Pay with Cash or Bitcoin

Your credit card or bank statements are a treasure trove of details about your habits, your likes, and your life.

Keep your personal purchases – well, personal!  Use cash where possible or Bitcoin.  Look for ways to eliminate the paper trail.

  1. Keep Your Online Activities Private

You can easily create a VPN for surfing the web that helps keep your online activity private. Consider using Tor Browser, purchasing a router with a built-in VPN or subscribing to a service like ExpressVPN.

For email, you might look at ProtonMail or a similarly encrypted email service.

  1. Opt-Out of Junk Mail

Eliminate paper trails wherever you can. Take a few minutes and opt-out of junk mail. You don’t need those extra catalogs and flyers filling up your mailbox, then your trash can, anyway.

  1. Use Security Software

How secure is your computer? Do you have anti-virus and anti-phishing software installed and running? Is it up to date?

Stop and install it (or update it) right now. There are reliable free options like AVG or Avast.

Be sure you understand how Incognito or Private Mode windows work in your browser – and use them!

Look for the https:// icon or symbol and never enter your info in a form that is n.

  1. Be Smart About Wi-Fi

Don’t connect to unsecured or open wi-fi networks. Ever. A savvy hacker can access your computer and steal info while you’re connected.

Instead, use your phone as a hotspot or wait until you have access to secured wi-fi.

Think twice before you log in to your online banking, credit card account, or other personal sites if you’re connected to wi-fi away from home.

  1. Secure Your Electronics

Secure your laptop, your phone, and any other personal electronic devices when you’re out and about or traveling.

Be sure they’ve got strong passwords that include a combination of letters, numbers and special characters. Use the fingerprint lock if it’s an option. Enable two-factor authentication anywhere possible.

And literally, lock up your electronics in the hotel room safe, if you’re stepping away from them.

Keep Your Personal Data Secure

It takes a few extra seconds to stop and think things through but taking smart steps to protect your privacy goes a long way towards keeping your personal data secure.

With these steps, you can protect yourself and prevent your personal data from being stolen or shared without your permission.

I challenge you to commit to being smart with your personal information, starting today!