The internet has led to increased freedom and sharing for millions but as people pour their lives into blogs, Facebook pages, Google+, YouTube and other social media sites, criminals have also moved in to take advantage.
If you have ever Googled your own name you know how much information is floating around about you on the web. Online phone books may have information about you that is so detailed; they include not only your name, birthday and a map of the general area you live in but also the names and personal information of family members.
The ease in which anyone can gain access to your personal information with a simple Google search makes a thief or stalker’s job much easier. A criminal can quickly learn who you are, where you live, who you live with, your phone number and even find images or videos of you and your family. Your goal then, is to limit the amount of your personal information that is publicly available as much as possible.
The first step to controlling your personal information is to secure your own computer and other digital devices. This prevents key-loggers from recording your every keystroke as well as other types of malicious attacks.
- Use both an anti-virus as well as several anti-malware programs and update and scan your computer often.
- Use complex passwords that have capital letters, numbers and symbols with at least 10 characters.
- Use a password safe or password manager software.
- Use a different password for each site.
Secure Your Information
Once your computers and devices are secure, you need to secure your personal information. A great way to keep your personal information safe, even if you are hacked, is to only use your correct information on sites that legally require it such as banking sites and government sites.
When you register social accounts it’s acceptable to fudge the details of your personal information such as:
- Rounding up your birth date.
- Changing the spelling of your name.
- Never give your true mailing address unless you will be expecting the company to mail you something. If possible, use a P.O. Box instead of your home address.
- Have a separate email for signing up on websites to avoid junk mail and spam on your business or personal account.
- Get a Google voice number to use on forms or to give to people you don’t know well. You can have it forwarded to your phone as needed.
- Never use your personal information in either your user name or password.
The next step is to always know who you are communicating with online. Anyone can pretend to be someone they are not on the internet, so it’s best to always take a cautious approach. Before entering any personal information, verify that the site is secure by looking in the address bar to see if the beginning of the web address starts with â€œhttpsâ€. The â€œsâ€ at the end indicates that the connection is secure. You’ll also want to:
- Research companies before you do business with them by checking their rating at the Better Business Bureau.
- Always go to a site directly, never by clicking a link.
- Don’t explicitly trust consumer ratings, as many sites pay people to write reviews.
- If you receive an email that seems a bit odd, even if it’s from someone you know, delete it.
Hackers often spread viruses by taking over an email account in order to gain access to social media sites, personal information and contact lists. Then, they send a virus laden email to everyone on the contact list. This, in turn, infects anyone who opens the infected email and that’s how viruses and hacked accounts spread across the internet.
This is why you want to actively keep yourself secure on social media sites at all times.
- Learn the privacy settings of the sites you use and keep track of when they change.
- Make your contact information private or only list a junk email account and Google voice number, not your personal contact information.
- Learn about how the social media sites you use utilize geotagging in posts and photos and disable geotagging whenever possible.
- Disable geotagging on your GPS enabled phone and camera and ensure that any social media sites you post to won’t be including any geolocation information about you.
- Find out if the site settings will allow you to block others from tagging you in pictures without your express permission.
No Turning Back
Remember that once you post something online, it’s there forever. You can go and delete information but there are dozens of sites that record snapshots of web pages for future viewing. This can cause embarrassment both now and in the future if a prospective boss or suitor is researching you online. Taking the time to secure your information will also defend you from potential thieves and stalkers now and in the future, so it’s time well spent.