Cybercrime affects both large corporations and private individuals. You’ve likely read about the large data breaches in the business world. These crimes are both expensive and on the rise. The U.S. Identity Theft Resource Center says that these corporate data breaches reached a peak of 1,632 in 2017. The response to the growing need for data protection has been swift and powerful; venture capitalists have invested $5.3 billion into cybersecurity firms.1
That’s good news for the big companies, but what about for the individual at home? What can you do to protect data breaches to your personal accounts?
For most private individuals, the key idea is to both:
- Know what to do if you’ve had a data breach.
- Know what you can do that might help prevent a data breach.
Total cybersecurity for your financial matters isn’t something that can be strategized in a single short article like this one, but I would like to offer you two suggestions that can help you get started. Both can be done from home and represent reactive and preventative measures.
By reactive, I mean that a step that you can take after the fact. In many cases, a credit freeze might be a reaction to identity theft or a data breach. What it specifically does is restrict access to your credit report, which has information that could be used to open new lines of credit in your name. The freeze prevents this, but it will not prevent a criminal from, for instance, using an active credit card number, if they’ve discovered it. For that reason, you still have to monitor for unauthorized transactions during the freeze.2
While the freeze is in place, you can still get your free annual credit report. You also won’t have issues with credit background searches for job or renter’s applications or when you buy insurance – the freeze doesn’t affect those areas of your credit history. You can even apply for a new line of credit during a credit freeze, though that requires a temporary or permanent elimination of the freeze during the process. This can be done through either a call to the big three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion) or a visit to their respective websites.2
This is a preventative measure. Yes, we all know the poor soul who uses “Password” as their password. While you are probably not that far gone, the truth is that there are many tricks that cybercrooks use to learn or intuit our passwords. In fact, 20% of Internet consumers have experienced some sort of account compromise. That comes at a time when about 70% of consumers operate 10 or more accounts. A few, against best practice, will use the same password across each of those accounts. A good security measure against that is password manager software – applications that allow us to keep all our numerous passwords encrypted in a vault and drop them into our browsers when requested. While yes, there are options to save these passwords, encrypted on most browsers, these security measures are limited. Password managers are focused solely on security and are more frequently updated than the browser security features might be. That attention might be difference between a criminal obtaining access to your sensitive personal information or being blocked in the attempt.3,4
While this is a very basic pair of tips, they are worth thinking about and may prove to be helpful in your efforts to prevent identity theft. There are, however, additional, more-advanced choices for you to explore. Talk with your trusted financial professional about other cybersecurity best practices that you might consider.