So much of our lives are shared on the internet these days. The photos we take of our family are automatically backed up into online cloud storage. We post updates about our lives on social media. We make purchases, browse for new favorite recipes, and unwittingly tell search engines all about the things we’re interested in. Your information is everywhere on the internet, whether you know it or not.
Most of this information is non-critical data that is never going to be used for anything more than targeted advertising. But what about essential personal information, like your Social Security number and credit card information? This is data that people can use to steal your money, and even your identity. How can you protect this information while you’re online? Our Provo financial advisors here at Biesinger & Kofford CPAs have some advice for you on this matter.
Know How to Recognize Imposters
Most internet-savvy individuals know how to recognize a phishing email or other online scam. If you don’t know the person or business that is contacting you, simply delete the email, and never click on any links that are included in the emails. But identity thieves can impersonate more than Nigerian princes. Often, they masquerade as representatives from a trusted business, and these imposters are often much more successful at gaining access to your personal data.
One very common scam is for the person to contact you and claim to be a representative from the IRS. It’s natural to trust someone from a government agency, and people fall for this scam all too often. It’s important to know that the IRS will never contact you via email or telephone, and anyone who does so is a scammer trying to steal your data.
But these people can masquerade as other businesses as well. Some thieves will monitor your email correspondence, and intercept your emails to a trusted institution. For example, let’s say you’re buying a house. You’ve been corresponding with the broker for weeks, and you’re finally closing the deal. She emails you can provides you with the information for the money transfer, and you send your down payment. A few days later, the broker contacts you about sending the down payment, and you learn that the last email you received was not from the broker at all. There was a subtle difference in the email address that you didn’t notice, and you just sent the down payment for your new home to a scam artist.
If you’re ever contacted and asked for personal information or money over the internet, always call the individual or company directly to provide that information or to verify how the money should be delivered. It is always best to take a little extra time to ensure the request is genuine than to fall victim to one of these imposters.
Only Send Data on Encrypted Sites
You should always think twice before submitting financial or personal identifying information online. But in our highly connected world, there are certainly going to be times when submitting such information is necessary. From online purchases to filing your taxes, there are numerous instances in which credit card information, Social Security numbers, and other personal data needs to be submitted online.
However, before you submit the information, you should always ensure that you’re sending it over a secure website. You can quickly verify this by looking for the “lock” icon on the status bar of your browser. This indicates that the site is encrypting any data you submit, so you can send it securely and with peace of mind.
Use Caution Posting on Social Media
Many of us share our lives on social media without thought. Even public sites like Twitter often become places where we share the smallest events of our lives. But doing this can make you a target for identity thieves. For example, let’s say your childhood pet just died. You send out a tweet saying, “I can’t believe that my old dog Rusty just died. He was the first pet I ever had. I will never forget him.” You just told everyone on Twitter the name of your first pet—and that’s a common security question for financial institutions.
While social media is a wonderful way to stay connected with friends and family, and even connect with like-minded individuals, you should always use caution when posting about your life online. Whenever possible, ensure your profile is set to private, and only add friends you know. For public networks like Twitter, think twice about anything you share.
Limit Your Use of Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is an incredibly convenient service offered by many hotels, restaurants, libraries, and other institutions. In fact, if you’re spending any significant amount of time somewhere, it’s natural to want to connect to the Wi-Fi network to keep your mobile device’s data usage to a minimum. While it’s fine to use these networks, you should limit your activities on them, and never submit personal data to a website (even one you trust) while on these networks. They are simply not as secure as a private network, and the data you share can sometimes be viewed by others.
The internet provides us with a number of conveniences and makes our lives easier in so many ways—but it can also make identity theft easier. Always use caution when you’re online, and be sure to follow the tips above to keep your data protected online.
If you have any questions regarding how we protect your personal and financial data, reach out to our Provo financial advisors at Biesinger & Kofford CPAs.