Protecting your identity and personal information is critically important in today’s hyper-informational technology age. Thieves, hackers, and con artists are constantly coming up with new, creative, and all too-clever ways to gain access to some of your most personal, distinguishing information.
The good news is that there are steps you can take to help protect your identity—and your money. Some are the staple measures we’ve always used, but there are also new ones that feed our gadget-hungry desires, and some that use the same technology criminals are relying on in the first place.
Below, I’ve outlined thirteen of the best methods for protecting your information online. Using these techniques could ultimately save you from losing a lot more than just your phone or wallet…
Shredders haven’t really changed much since they were first introduced decades ago. There aren’t really a whole lot of improvements you can make to a device that takes your personal paperwork—including bank statements, tax forms, and other financial forms—and shreds it down into tiny pieces of paper. But nevertheless, it’s still a very viable safeguard today.
When it comes to shredders, remember to never throw out any papers that include anything that can identify you: your Social Security number, address, or any other personal information. Shred anything and everything. Even if you aren’t sure whether you should shred it, err on the side of caution and mince it up into confetti.
Use a Bolt-Down Safe
There are a number of different kinds of safes that you can choose from, but when it comes to securing your personal paperwork, make sure you select one that can be bolted to the floor. Keep all of your vital documents locked securely in this safe.
If a thief can take off with your safe, all that really stands between him or her and your documents are a sledge hammer, a wedge, and some elbow grease—bolt it to the floor, and that thief won’t be going anywhere fast.
The Shielded Credit Card Protector
There are plenty of different names for these types of products, but essentially, they’re used to securely store your credit cards. Having one on hand makes it impossible for a scam artist to use any kind of scanner to read your cards—which can be done even if you never take them out of your wallet.
New technology allows thieves to simply stand close enough to you and use a small device that scans the cards in close proximity. Every important piece of information is stored on your credit card strip, including the PIN you use!
Using a special case keeps certain frequencies from gaining access to those strips, and will keep your information safe and secure.
When you work online, you likely have passwords for a number of sites. Given the challenge of remembering all these different codes, many people use easily identifiable passwords, creating a major security risk. Instead, you should be changing your passwords regularly and using passwords that aren’t easy for someone to figure out.
Don’t use your birthday, your cat’s name, or anything else that someone might be able to guess with just few pieces of information about you. Then, store these passwords in a safe place (like, say, your bolt-down safe).
As alternative, look into password keeper services like LastPass, which generate highly-secure passwords for every site with which you maintain a login and store them securely under one main account. There is, of course, the risk that someone will hack your main password, but this risk is mitigated by the overall security gains that come from being able to use more secure passwords on every other site you log in to.
Computer locks are the low-tech devices you commonly see in computer stores. Essentially, they lock your electronic devices to a workstation, making it frustrating for thieves to try and swipe.
Usually, if thieves see that they can’t easily grab a computer and run, they won’t even bother trying in the first place.
Lo-Jack or Other GPS Tracking Devices
LoJack and other GPS monitoring systems are available for just about any electronic device that you can own. Use them. Add one to your computer and it will make any device you have less appealing to thieves. After all, who wants to steal something with personal information on it if it’s going to lead police right to the culprit’s front door?
Use a Magnet on Old Credit Cards
Before you shred your old credit card, place a high-powered magnet to the strip on the back. This effectively erases any and all information stored on it.
Even though the card is expired, there’s enough information on there for thieves to discover out a host of personal information about you—and potentially use this data to start spending your hard-earned money.
Hard Drive Erasing Programs
When you plan on getting rid of an old computer—whether you’re going to donate it or throw it out—you need to wipe out the hard drive on your old computer. No matter how old or corrupted your old computer is, the hard drive stores information on it, even when you “drag” those items to the recycle bin.
The only way to be certain that all of your personal information is eliminated is to use a hard drive erasing program that completely 0’s out the binary code data on the entire hard drive. Otherwise the next lucky owners of your computer could be getting a lot more than what they paid for it!
Use a Firewall
When it comes down to it, your computer is likely the most concentrated source of personal information you own. As a result, you should absolutely be using firewalls —not just on your computer, but also with your wireless router.
If you don’t know the first thing about firewalls, contact a computer tech in your area and let him or her show you how to set one up. Firewalls essentially act as a first line of defense to protect your device from online attacks coming from virus, worms, malware, and hackers. Having a software or hardware firewall or both is more likely to discourage cyber criminals from targeting your device.
Use a VPN
Lastly, using a Virtual Private Network like Hotspot Shield VPN is one of the most effective ways to keep your personal information safe when working online. A VPN hides your personal Internet Protocol (IP) address, which identifies your computing device and can lead hackers right to your front door, and encrypts your internet traffic.
With your IP address, a thief can—through the electronic portals you use—gain access to your computer and all of your personal information (depending on the personal safeguards you have in place). By hiding your IP address and encrypting your internet traffic, no one can track your online activities or steal your private information online. That’s a powerful tool to protect your personal information.
While you can’t stop a thief from trying, there are a number of practical safeguards you can implement that will be highly discouraging to the average info-burglar. Take the time to integrate some of these tips into your own life, and you’ll make your financial and personal information much more safe and secure.