Home > 2015 > Identity Theft

12 Resolutions That Could Save Your Identity in 2016

Advertiser Disclosure Comments 0 Comments

Another New Year is upon us. Bring on another raft of resolutions I say! I mean, what would a New Year be in the absence of resolutions? As Aldous Huxley wrote in Time Must Have a Stop, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.” This year, I am advocating something simple: It’s high time we (as in all of us – business, government and consumers) stop making it so easy for scammers, phishers and identity thieves.

The best intentions can’t really stop these guys, but adopting a best-practices approach to data security can make your online world more secure. Here are some of the things you can do in 2016 to help avoid the living hell of identity theft and other identity-related crimes.

1. Change Is Healthy, Especially When We Are Talking Passwords.

A growing consensus in the data security community believes that passwords will be a thing of the past in the next decade or so, with new forms of authentication being developed and becoming main stream. But until that joyous day when you can throw your increasingly complex password recall system out the virtual window, please change your passwords regularly: Once a month at the minimum. Make them long and strong, develop your own system (perhaps using a favorite phrase at the core) or use a password manager!

2. Change Your User Names

Too many sites still allow (or require) you to use your email address as your user name. The problem with this is that the (arguably) most public piece of your personally identifiable information is, by very definition, not the most secure way to confirm to a site that you are the right person to gain access to your sensitive information. By using your email address (or name) as your user ID, you’re giving the bad guys one half of the front door key. Consider using a complex user name as part of your security protocol.

3. Tighten Your Privacy Settings

If you haven’t revisited your social media privacy settings in a while, you may be surprised how much has changed. Did you realize you were sharing your love of Michael Buble, profile pictures and birthdate with anyone and everyone? You can change that, and you definitely should.

Check (and tighten at every opportunity) your privacy settings on every site you use! Make sure only trusted contacts can see your posts.

4. Purge Your ‘Friends’

Having a ton of friends is one indication that you might be an awesome individual, but for those who believe more is better consider the possibility that someone you don’t know might be looking at you as their day job. Since most of us don’t (or at least shouldn’t) invite strangers to stay in our homes, why would we friend them online? (And yes, as I detail in my book, Swiped: How to Protect Yourself in a World of Scammers, Phishers and Identity Thieves, it can amount to the same thing when a skilled fraudster gets access to personal details about you.)

5. Tell a Few Lies

One way to throw a would-be scammer off the trail of your personally identifiable information is to be less than truthful. Here’s where you can truly benefit by making yourself seem younger or using any of the many things people lie about: Change your birthday, your hometown, schools attended, etc. (You get the picture—and by fibbing “they” won’t.)

6. Check Your Bank & Credit Accounts Daily

One way to stop (or at least to contain) fraud is to stay on top of things, and there is nothing easier these days than this so-called chore of monitoring your financial accounts. Set up daily reports and transaction alerts with your bank and credit card accounts. This makes checking your accounts part of the morning grind—or whenever you choose to have reports sent. You can also set up alerts that let you know about every transaction, big or small, or only monitor transactions above a certain threshold—all of it sent to a smart device or your email, thus making it easy to know what’s what at a glance.

7. Check Your Credit Report

These days there is nothing difficult about checking your credit—many credit card companies now provide free access to your FICO score—and doing so will let you know in short order if anyone has tried to tap into your available credit. You can get a free credit report summary every month on Credit.com, and you can get your free annual credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com.

8. Consider a Credit Freeze

Another option to help strengthen your identity defenses is the credit freeze. You can actually lock your credit, but don’t forget that you will need to unlock it every time you want to open a new line of credit or (for example) allow a current creditor to review your account for a limit increase. There can be a charge for freezing and unfreezing your credit, depending on your state’s laws.

9. Stop Using Public WiFi

Sure it’s convenient, but do you really need to pay your bills when using public WiFi? You truly never know who might be looking over your shoulder (actually, as well as literally) and is able to see the traffic on those accounts. The solution here is simple: Conduct sensitive business on a secure network because, unfortunately, “free access” could end up becoming very expensive.

10. Stop Clicking the ‘Remember Me’ Box

Let’s say your computer is lost or stolen. Do you have a security code protecting the device? Is it a long and strong password? Can you erase or disable the device using a user name and password entered from another device? Even so, there’s a chance that whoever finds (or takes) your computer can gain access to what it contains—including the various ways into your financial affairs. So, always type in all user names and passwords for financial accounts. Don’t let your computer auto-fill unless you’re absolutely certain it’s secure, and you use a good password manager.

11. Turn Off Geotagging

Several of us in the security community have been warning about this for years. Unfortunately, lots of people still leave location services enabled when using cameras, and it’s still a good way to provide a North Star for those who are looking to figure out how to better identify you, or where they can find you, your family or your valuables. Thieves spend hours every day on social media looking for things to steal, and if you post pictures of your prized possessions online, without disabling geotagging, you are handing a would-be thief all the information they need to show up at your door when you’re not at home and rob you blind.

12. Sharing Is Not Necessarily Caring — Share Less

No one really needs to see pictures from your vacation in real time, except of course the burglar looking to empty your home of its most valuable contents.

But that is not the only reason to avoid oversharing. A study in Science Magazine found that anonymized metadata sets used for research were re-identifiable with specific people using just a few data points provided by the people being re-identified. If you guessed that those data points came from social media, you’re right. Every meal you post from a favorite restaurant, or article of clothing from a must-have designer, is potentially correlated with a credit card transaction—from there it’s just a matter of the amount of time it takes a computer to find a transaction on a metadata set of purchases that matches your Instagram post.

Identity theft and other identity-related crimes are no longer something you need to think about from time to time. There is no avoiding every scam and fraudster out there, but you can make yourself a harder target. Only through a paradigm shift in the way we view data security will things change. Please consider and put into practice some of these suggestions and maybe in 2016 you can better avoid becoming a fraud statistic.

More on Identity Theft:

Image: iStock

Comments on articles and responses to those comments are not provided or commissioned by a bank advertiser. Responses have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by a bank advertiser. It is not a bank advertiser's responsibility to ensure all posts and/or questions are answered.

Please note that our comments are moderated, so it may take a little time before you see them on the page. Thanks for your patience.

Certain credit cards and other financial products mentioned in this and other articles on Credit.com News & Advice may also be offered through Credit.com product pages, and Credit.com will be compensated if our users apply for and ultimately sign up for any of these cards or products. However, this relationship does not result in any preferential editorial treatment.

Hello, Reader!

Thanks for checking out Credit.com. We hope you find the site and the journalism we produce useful. We wanted to take some time to tell you a bit about ourselves.

Our People

The Credit.com editorial team is staffed by a team of editors and reporters, each with many years of financial reporting experience. We’ve worked for places like the New York Times, American Banker, Frontline, TheStreet.com, Business Insider, ABC News, NBC News, CNBC and many others. We also employ a few freelancers and more than 50 contributors (these are typically subject matter experts from the worlds of finance, academia, politics, business and elsewhere).

Our Reporting

We take great pains to ensure that the articles, video and graphics you see on Credit.com are thoroughly reported and fact-checked. Each story is read by two separate editors, and we adhere to the highest editorial standards. We’re not perfect, however, and if you see something that you think is wrong, please email us at editorial team [at] credit [dot] com,

The Credit.com editorial team is committed to providing our readers and viewers with sound, well-reported and understandable information designed to inform and empower. We won’t tell you what to do. We will, however, do our best to explain the consequences of various actions, thereby arming you with the information you need to make decisions that are in your best interests. We also write about things relating to money and finance we think are interesting and want to share.

In addition to appearing on Credit.com, our articles are syndicated to dozens of other news sites. We have more than 100 partners, including MSN, ABC News, CBS News, Yahoo, Marketwatch, Scripps, Money Magazine and many others. This network operates similarly to the Associated Press or Reuters, except we focus almost exclusively on issues relating to personal finance. These are not advertorial or paid placements, rather we provide these articles to our partners in most cases for free. These relationships create more awareness of Credit.com in general and they result in more traffic to us as well.

Our Business Model

Credit.com’s journalism is largely supported by an e-commerce business model. Rather than rely on revenue from display ad impressions, Credit.com maintains a financial marketplace separate from its editorial pages. When someone navigates to those pages, and applies for a credit card, for example, Credit.com will get paid what is essentially a finder’s fee if that person ends up getting the card. That doesn’t mean, however, that our editorial decisions are informed by the products available in our marketplace. The editorial team chooses what to write about and how to write about it independently of the decisions and priorities of the business side of the company. In fact, we maintain a strict and important firewall between the editorial and business departments. Our mission as journalists is to serve the reader, not the advertiser. In that sense, we are no different from any other news organization that is supported by ad revenue.

Visitors to Credit.com are also able to register for a free Credit.com account, which gives them access to a tool called The Credit Report Card. This tool provides users with two free credit scores and a breakdown of the information in their Experian credit report, updated twice monthly. Again, this tool is entirely free, and we mention that frequently in our articles, because we think that it’s a good thing for users to have access to data like this. Separate from its educational value, there is also a business angle to the Credit Report Card. Registered users can be matched with products and services for which they are most likely to qualify. In other words, if you register and you find that your credit is less than stellar, Credit.com won’t recommend a high-end platinum credit card that requires an excellent credit score You’d likely get rejected, and that’s no good for you or Credit.com. You’d be no closer to getting a product you need, there’d be a wasted inquiry on your credit report, and Credit.com wouldn’t get paid. These are essentially what are commonly referred to as "targeted ads" in the world of the Internet. Despite all of this, however, even if you never apply for any product, the Credit Report Card will remain free, and none of this will impact how the editorial team reports on credit and credit scores.

Our Owners

Credit.com is owned by Progrexion Holdings Inc. which is the owner and administrator of a number of business related to credit and credit repair, including CreditRepair.com, and eFolks. In addition, Progrexion also provides services to Lexington Law Firm as a third party provider. Despite being owned by Progrexion, it is not the role of the Credit.com editorial team to advocate the use of the company’s other services. In articles, reporters may mention credit repair as an option, for example, but we’ll also be sure to note the various alternatives to that service. Furthermore, you may see ads for credit repair services on Credit.com, but the editorial team isn’t responsible for the creation or implementation of those ads, anymore than reporters for the New York Times or Washington Post are responsible for the ads on their sites.

Your Stories

Lastly, much of what we do is informed by our own experiences as well as the experiences of our readers. We want to tell your stories if you’re interested in sharing them. Please email us at story ideas [at] credit [dot] com with ideas or visit us on Facebook or Twitter.

Thanks for stopping by.

- The Credit.com Editorial Team