We all have friends, some closer than others. If someone asked you to describe each one of your friends, what would your answers be? Friendly? Brave? Shy? Humorous and aloof? Even “crazy” falls into this category. And if you were asked to describe how they looked, would you talk about their height, eye color, body type, hair color, the way they dress, or the car they drive? The point is, each person has unique, personally identifiable characteristics that make them the remarkable and unique individuals that they are.
People also have personally identifiable information that is found online. This includes birthdate, email address, physical address, and phone numbers, social media posts, financial information and so much more. Unfortunately, that’s where the problem comes into play. Because to a cyberthief, that type of information is like finding gold. They use it to build a “description” of the person, constantly looking for additional ways to describe one, up to and including their tax information, medical record information, and their Social Security number. It’s all done for one purpose: identity theft. And that’s why it’s critically important for everyone to protect their personally identifiable information online.
Consider This Your Wakeup Call
Cyberthieves are constantly on the prowl, scouring the web in search of your personally identifiable information, also known as PII. They’re not interested in your birthday, your IP address, where you were born, the places you shop, or the cookies that are embedded on your computer or another device. Their search for information about you is far more targeted – so they look at all of your social media posts, shop the dark web for any of your financial account numbers, and look at the many different people-search sites for all of the unauthorized information they’ll find about you.
There are many other ways cyber crooks can steal your personally identifiable information. It can be as simple as inadvertently leaving your purse or wallet at a restaurant, which just happened to have your Social Security card inside. It might be due to a credit card skimming device that captures your PIN number when you make a withdrawal at an ATM. It can come from a scam phone call or a phishing email, and more often than not, it could come from data breaches and website hacks of major companies that have your information.
Cyberthieves work 24/7, so there’s never a “downtime” when it comes to protecting your information. How many times do you pop into your favorite espresso shop for a cappuccino, log onto the Internet using the shop’s WiFi and check your email or do some online shopping? Very frequently, if you’re like everyone else. Well, that’s what cybercrooks count on – and they’re sitting in the background, waiting for you to log on with your username and password.
So, here’s a tip: never use public WiFi to log on to the Internet. Instead, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) which prevents prying eyes from seeing what you enter and keeps your private conversations private. Some of the top ones include IP Vanish, TunnelBear, and SurfShark.
The Damage can be Horrific
Cyber crooks are known for wreaking havoc on innocent people. The worm their way into your PII, then steal whatever is needed to hack your real identity and leave a tsunami of damage in their wake. At times the damage can be horrific. For example, once they start down the path of identity theft, they can take over your financial accounts, steal all of your funds, open new accounts using your information and charge thousands of dollars in merchandise and services they never intend to repay. They’ll file tax returns and steal your refund checks, steal your medical information, and charge medications and procedures in your name – and the only way you’ll find out is when medical collection agencies start calling you.
Sadly, as with the IRS and another financial thievery, you won’t discover the fraudulent activity until it’s far too late to do much about it. In the meantime, the thieves are rolling right along, leaving you to have to deal with the consequences – financial, legal, and others.
Protecting Your PII
The best defense is a good offense. So start by being proactive in protecting your most vulnerable PII. One of the ways that cyber thieves get personal information on you is from people-search sites, so you need to delete that data and opt-out of those sites. The only issue is that there are more than 100 of them, including US Search, Pipl, and WhitePages. And each one has its own methods and steps to take in order to delete your data, so it could end up being very time-consuming. Just know that regardless of how much effort is involved, it’s worth it!
A strong password is also a must in order to prevent hackers from getting into your devices. That means 12 characters, including numbers, letters, and symbols, plus a separate one for every account you have. It would be extremely difficult to generate and remember that many strong passwords, so you’ll need to get yourself a password manager, like Roboform, LastPass, and Keeper. They’re all safe and secure and will generate and manage all of your passwords while protecting your computer and other devices.
In order to protect yourself from logging on to a spoofed website, always enter the site’s URL by yourself – never click on a link. This is especially true if you use 3rd party payment services like PayPal, for example. Cyberthieves create phony websites that look real but are only used to steal the information you enter. Also, be sure it’s a secure site – one that always starts with “HTTPS” – if there’s no “s” – it’s not secure!
By reviewing the information and suggestions listed above, you’ll have a good head start against cyberthieves stealing your personally identifiable information that will often lead to identity theft – and a lot of trouble. Be safe – and protect your PII.