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How to protect your privacy and security on the web

How to protect your privacy and security on the web
You've spent your whole life being you, but it only takes a few minutes for someone else to assume your identity on the web.

Published: 5 Aug, 2013

How to protect your privacy and security on the web

In a striking example of what AdWeek calls "cautionary prankvertising," the trade group for Belgium's financial sector partnered with an award-winning ad agency to create a creepy public service announcement about the dangers of identity theft: an ad that dramatises the hijacking of a real person's life.

We are all no doubt fully aware of the need for privacy and security online - some of us painfully so.

The Hollywood comedy, Identity Thief, even lampoons the otherwise harsh realities of online identity theft.

But online privacy and security are no laughing matters. Many people have had the displeasure of having their lives disrupted - even destroyed - because of nefarious identity thieves.

The need to protect your identity online is obvious, but here are three of our most practical tips for improving privacy and security online.

1. If it's personal, don't post it

The sad truth is, as long as you have update-to-date antivirus software installed, the biggest threats come from the information you freely give out online.

Criminals know that knowledge is power, and all they need is a few pieces of key information to be able to assume your identity. It seems like every site on the web doesn’t mind asking for personal information these days, but you should be prudent with handing out personal information freely.

Here are some things to keep off the Internet:

Your mailing address
Your physical address is okay to share with the businesses you actually purchase from, of course. But you should not post it elsewhere.

Even if you a freelancing or self-employed, you do not want to list your home address on the web. Get a mailbox instead and list that where appropriate.

For anyone thorough enough, most people's addresses are a matter of public record, but that doesn't mean you have to make finding out your address easy for identity thieves.

Your date of birth
Often, this is the missing link for identity thieves. Do your privacy and security a favour and keep your DOB safely under your hat.

All those other little details
You know the drill: your mother's maiden name, the first elementary school you attended, the name of your first pet. Anything that can be used against you will be used against you, in the world of identity theft, is better left off the web.

2. Don't get caught by phishing

Phishing scams have been around for years and never seem to go away. Sadly, they get harder and harder to detect.

Recently, a very clever phishing scam disguised as a communique from PayPal has been making its way around the web. The email message informs the recipient that there is problems with their PayPal account and asks the recipient to "verify" their info. The devil, though, is in the details, as anyone can tell that the message uses unusual English terminology.

Pointers to avoid phishing:

  • Is the sender's email address in order? (example: the email from "PayPal" is not from the real company's servers, evident in the email address
  • Remember that banking institutions will not ask for personal info online
  • Call the institution in question if you have any doubts about the authenticity of the communications you are receiving on their behalf

If it "seems off" it's probably phishing. It really is just that simple.

3. Be careful with social sharing

Social sharing is fun and it can even be beneficial to brands.

One of the biggest critiques of social media is that people share silly, mundane, everyday things - like trips to the coffee shop or real-time pictures of their lunch.

As if the world didn't have enough reasons to abstain from such trivial posts, privacy and security are also at stake if you tell your legions of followers (and pesky trolls), you'd be surprised who would know you aren't home and what they might do with that information in your absence.

Some services, like Instagram, allow you to mark the places you visit. Just be careful. Think about who is watching, before you start posting your every move.

Play it safe with privacy and security on the web

These days, identity thieves continue to take our privacy and security concerns to new levels.

The world of social media makes it possible for anyone to create a social profile of anyone else. If someone pays enough attention to what you put on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social sites, they can gather a great deal of information about you without your direct consent.

Even your likes and follows can cause problems - if you 'follow' the American Express page, for example, one can logically assume that your credit is good enough to get a credit card.

It's fun to engage in social media and follow brands and organisations you like, but keep your cards covered, so to speak, and keep your online privacy and safety always in mind.