Cybersecurity – How To Protect Yourself and Your Identity

  1. Protect your computer and smartphone with strong, up-to-date security software. If your computer or phone is infected with malicious software, other safeguards are of little help because you’ve given the criminals the key to all your online actions. Also be sure that any operating system updates and patches are installed regularly.
  2. Learn to spot spam and scams. Though some phishing scams are easy to identify, other phishing attempts in an email, messaging apps, on social networking platforms, or websites can look very legitimate. The only way to never fall for phishing scam is to never click on a link that has been sent to you. For example, if the email says it’s from your bank and has all the right logos and knows your name, it may be from your bank – or it may not be. Instead of using the link provided, go directly to their website. This way you will know you landed on the legitimate site and not fake site.  Here are some examples:
    • Email Phishing
      • Fake Invoice Scam: Receivers get an email with an attached invoice asking for payment for a service or product they never purchased.
      • Tax Refund Fraud: Emails impersonating tax authorities claim you’re eligible for a tax refund and request sensitive information to process it.
      • CEO Fraud: Emails appear to come from the company’s CEO or another high-level executive, requesting urgent money transfers or sensitive information.
      • Account Verification Scam: A message claiming to be from a well-known service (e.g., PayPal, Amazon) stating there’s a problem with your account and asking you to click a link to verify your information.
    • Text Phishing (Smishing)
      • Banking Alert Fraud: Texts pretending to be from your bank, claiming there’s a security issue with your account and urging you to click a link to fix it.
      • Delivery Notification Scam: SMS messages from fake delivery services asking you to click on a link to update delivery preferences for a package you didn’t order.
      • Lucky Winner Scam: Texts telling you you’ve won a prize in a contest you didn’t enter, asking you to provide personal details or pay a small fee to claim it.
      • Mobile Carrier Update Scam: Messages claiming to be from your mobile carrier, asking you to update your billing information through a dubious link.
  1. Use strong passwords and MFA. Weak passwords are an identity thief’s dream – especially if you use the same password everywhere. Once the thief knows your password, they can log you’re your financial accounts and wreak havoc. You need passwords that are long (a minimum of 10 characters), strong (use upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols), and that has nothing to do with your personal information (like name, age, birthdate, pet). Password managers and two-factor authentication (2FA or MFA) are also both best practices for password management should be used whenever possible.
  2. Monitor your credit scores. By law you have the right to three free credit reports per year from Experian, Transunion, and Equifax.
  3. Review your credit score. Look to see if there are new credit cards, loans, or other transactions on your account that you are not aware of. If there are, take immediate steps to have these terminated and investigated.
  4. Freeze your credit. Criminals use stolen IDs to open new lines of credit. You can thwart their efforts to use your identity by simply locking (called freezing) your credit so that no new credit can be given without additional information and controls. Many states have laws giving you the right to a free credit freeze, but even where states don’t provide legal mandates, the large credit bureaus provide a voluntary security freeze program at a very low cost.
  5. Only use reputable websites when making purchases. If you don’t know the reputation of a company that you want to purchase from, do your homework. How are they reviewed by other users? Do they have a strong rating with the Better Business Bureau? Do they use a secure, encrypted connection for personal and financial information (https)? 
  6. Stay alert. Watch for common signs of identity theft like:
    • False information on your credit reports, including your Social Security number, address(es), name or employer’s name.
    • Missing bills or other mail. If your bills don’t arrive or come late, contact your creditors. A missing bill may indicate that an ID thief has hijacked your account and changed your billing address to help hide the crime.
    • Getting new credit cards sent to you that you didn’t apply for.
    • Having a credit approval denied or being subjected to high-interest rates for no apparent reason.
    • Receiving calls or notices about past due bills for products or services you didn’t buy.
    • Be wary of public WiFi and think twice before joining an unsecured network. Virtual private networks, or VPNs, are tools that can help you shield yourself on public WiFi networks.  
  7. What to Do if You’re a Victim of Identity Theft. If you discover you’re a victim or potential victim of identity theft, here is some help from Experian.     

    If you discover you’re a victim or potential victim of identity theft, make these moves:
    • You have the right to place a free fraud alert on your credit report. When you set up an alert through Experian, for instance, the two other major credit bureaus (Equifax and TransUnion) will automatically be notified.
    • File a report with your local law enforcement agency.
    • Monitor your credit reports to detect suspicious activity.
    • Contact the companies, such as banks and credit card issuers, that are responsible for any accounts you suspect are in jeopardy. You might need to cancel accounts involved in your case of identity theft.
    • Dispute transactions that you believe were made fraudulently.


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