Simple steps can go a long way in protecting your privacy from prying eyes, including those belonging to on-the-lookout scammers. Some of the easiest and (usually) free safeguards to reduce your risk of scams, hacking and other dastardly deeds:
- Password-protect every device you own – smartphone, PC, laptop, and tablet – with a PIN that isn’t among these commonly
- used, and most-often hacked: 0000, 1111, 1212, 1234, 2580 (middle column of keyboard) or 5555. Also avoid your birthdate, birth year, and portions of your phone address, address or SSN.
- Check if your email address was compromised in a data breach at https://haveibeenpwned.com. If you were poned, change that password used for that and other account.
- Use a password manager to remember all your passwords in a well-protected digital space, generate new ones, and/or even automatically complete log-in fields; you only need to remember a master phrase. Some versions are free; those with top-line features cost upwards of $50.
- On social media, taking surveys or even completing product and service forms, don’t share personal details including your birthdate, birthplace, phone number, family members, income, even hobbies. Even legitimate companies may share these ID theft-worthy nuggets with who-knowns-who. Never provide your Social Security number, even the last four digits, unless you initiate contact or it’s legally required.
- Protect your Google, Yahoo or Outlook email (and other accounts) with two-factor authentication so any sign-in from a different device requires a second layer of security, such as a code texted to your phone. Check twofactorauth.org for websites that offer two-factor authentication.
- Install the HTTPS Everywhere extension to ensure all your activity on major websites is encrypted and less vulnerable to hacking.
- Visit optoutprescreen.com or call 1-888-567-8688 to get off mailing lists for pre-approved credit card offers, which can be stolen by identity thieves to get new cards in your name. Stop “junk” mail from direct-marketing mailing lists at dmachoice.org.
- Mail outgoing payments from a secure USPS dropbox or the post office, not from your home mailbox. Try to retrieve incoming mail soon after its delivery – especially in coming weeks, when ID thieves can steal just-delivered tax-related documents.
- Get and keep copies of your medical records – a binder works well – adding each new treatment and prescription. This way, you have paper proof (and better defense) if your records are stolen, altered, or used in medical identity theft that could compromise your own health care.
- Review every Explanation of Benefits (EOB) statement from your insurer. Call about any appointment, treatment or prescription that wasn’t yours. Once a year, review all benefits paid out in your name.
- Don’t choose “personal” password security questions – or if you do, provide false answers. With some online research, fraudsters can learn “Where were you born?” and “What’s your mother’s maiden name?” to access your account. Keep track of fabricated answers by setting up “accounts” in a password manager.
- Consider how you pay. Credit cards offer the best fraud protection; with bank-issued debit cards, your out-of-pocket liability depends on when unauthorized charges are reported. Be suspicious of payment requests by prepaid, reloadable debit card or wire transfer; scammers prefer those methods because they are like sending cash – hard to trace and virtually impossible for consumers to get money back.
- Don’t make photocopies of medical, tax-related or other sensitive documents from digital copiers at libraries or businesses. Information stored on their hard drives can be retrieved by ID thieves who purchase leased or discarded machines.
For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and keep tabs of scams and law enforcement alerts in your area at our Scam-Tracking Map.
Also of Interest
- Will that ‘Smart’ holiday gift for the grandkids be a spy for hackers?
- Expect more scams this Medicare open enrollment
- Get help: Find out if you’re eligible for public benefits with Benefits QuickLINK
- Join AARP: Savings, resources and news for your well-being
See the AARP home page for deals, savings tips, trivia