Gmail has been the largest email provider in the world since 2012, when its number of active users reportedly surpassed that of Hotmail. Given that it serves as the core of more than 425 million Internet users’ online presence, Gmail is also incredibly valuable (that 425 million is the 2012 estimate — Gmail doesn’t release market data). If someone gains access to your email account, they likely hold the key to the most sensitive information about you that exists.
Think about it: Your bank account, social media, work life, personal messages — they’re all tied back to your email account. You don’t want anyone else to have access to it. Identity thieves can use the data to run roughshod over your life, wrecking your credit in the process. But besides pulling your credit reports often and monitoring your credit scores (you can get two of your credit scores for free every month on Credit.com) to spot identity theft as soon as possible, it’s best to try to lock down your information before a thief can get to it.
Since Gmail is the largest email provider, we thought it would be a good idea to go over some of the security features the platform offers its users. If the news in 2014 was any indication, consumer data will continue to be a prime target for hackers and identity thieves in the new year, so if you’re not taking every measure available to protect your email account, now is the time to start.
1. Enable 2-Step Verification
This goes for every important account you have: If two-factor authentication is an option, enable it. If someone gets a hold of your email address and password, they still can’t access your account from an unauthorized device without a verification code. You can set this code to be sent to your mobile phone or shared in a voice call to a phone line, and unless the thief has access to that phone, he or she can’t get the code. You can also set a backup number, in the event you lose access to your primary phone as well.
2. Monitor Your Recent Activity
Using your Recent Activity page, you can see the last time your account was accessed and from which devices. If you see activity that doesn’t match your usage history, it may be a sign your account has been compromised and you should change your password.
3. Check Your Settings
In a Gmail inbox, you’ll see a little gear icon in the top-right corner. That’s where you go to check your settings.
You should review your settings tabs from time to time to make sure everything looks normal. Specifically, you should look at your filters and forwarding settings, because if you see any filters or forwarding addresses you didn’t implement, someone may have hacked and configured your account to send messages to another email address. Think about all the things that come into your inbox: password reset links, financial updates, personal messages, sensitive work matters, and plenty of other things you want to keep private.
4. Review Account Permissions
When you sign up for a new app or service, you’re sometimes prompted to authorize access to your basic email information or email contacts. You should authorize third-party applications with caution, and it’s good to review a list of approved services from time to time to eliminate any unnecessary information sharing. You can check account permissions through your Google Account settings.
For a step-by-step tip sheet on keeping your Gmail secure, visit Google’s security checklist and make sure you’re making the most of their security options.
As with any account, use a unique, difficult-to-guess password to protect your account, and update it regularly, especially when you have reason to be concerned your account has been compromised. Don’t leave your account logged in on a computer or device someone else can easily access, and protect your personal devices with pass codes to further deter unauthorized email access.
More on Identity Theft:
- Identity Theft: What You Need to Know
- 3 Dumb Things You Can Do With Email
- How Can You Tell If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?