There’s no way to guarantee you’ll never be a victim of a cybercrime.
Even going off the grid won’t help (and really, who can or wants to do that?) since banks, doctor’s offices and other places you do business are already keeping your information online.
But there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself, at home and at work, says Tim Godsey, information security risk manager at Colonial Life.
1. Prevent theft and unauthorized access by requiring a passcode or biometric capability such as Touch ID to unlock your device. Always lock it when it’s not in use, and never leave it unattended in a public place.
2. Update operating systems and apps quickly when notified of updates. “The updates not only fix bugs and provide new features, they often include security enhancements,” Godsey says. “Older versions are more susceptible to viruses, spyware and other security headaches, and they also tend to operate more slowly and are less dependable.”
3. Avoid clicking links or attachments in emails unless you’re sure they’re legit. If you’re not sure, verify with the sender first what the link or attachment is. And don’t click on ads on websites. If you see an ad for something that interests you, do a web search for it. Links can be laced with malware intended to compromise, damage or disable computers or devices.
4. Change your passwords frequently, but not too frequently. Changing your password too frequently can be just as risky as keeping the same password for too long. When you are forced to change your password too frequently, it could increase your chances of writing your new passwords down to remember them. Perfect Passwords author Mark Burnett recommends changing your password no more than every 6 months to a year. Create a unique password you’ll remember, using special characters and a combination of upper and lower-case characters, or use a passphrase.
5. Avoid sharing your full name, address and other personal information online. “Identify thieves are really good at stringing information gathered online to pretend to be you,” Godsey says. “Frequently check privacy options for apps and websites to ensure you’ve enabled the highest level of privacy. These options may routinely get updated or changed. Remember, you’re ultimately responsible for your online presence.”
6. Ask for protection beyond passwords. Many websites now offer additional ways for you to verify your identity before you log on, such as two-factor authentication. Use it if it’s offered.
7. Never plug in an unknown device into your computer. Yeah, that thumb drive you found? It could open the front door to all the information and activity on your device.
If you’re a victim of cybercrime
First, report it to law enforcement and other appropriate organizations such as banks, credit agencies and credit card companies, Godsey advises.
“Closing or freezing your accounts can save a lot of time and stress later when it comes to disputing fraudulent purchases made by a cybercriminal,” he says.
You also can set up a fraud alert with national consumer reporting agencies that instructs creditors to contact you directly before making any changes to existing accounts or allowing you — or someone using your identity — to open up new ones.
“Keep an eye on your credit reports from each of the different agencies, because the information in the reports might differ somewhat,” Godsey adds. “Also, keep in mind it might take some time for fraudulent activity to appear on your reports. There are many credit monitoring services that will alert you when key changes or suspicious activities are detected in your credit profile.”
You can’t control the actions of cybercriminals, but you can take steps to protect yourself and minimize the risk of becoming the next victim.