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Digital Security

6 Simple Ways to Protect Your Personal Data

Photo: Courtesy of Apostolos Vamvouras

When people think about identity theft, they don’t often think about others. Frequently, they feel that it is a personal attack, directed that them individually. And, for the most part, that is correct. Identity theft occurs when someone takes an individual’s identity and assumes it as their own for malicious purposes. But let me tell you, it is not a fun experience, individually or with the help of others. I had it happen to me. 

An old-fashioned hacking

The funny thing is, my identity theft was not because someone hacked a password, or cracked into a merchant, or skimmed my credit card. It was a very old-fashioned approach that still happens. And I often worry that businesses are ignoring these older types of attacks. For me, it was over a decade ago. It was around the holiday season (which is a pretty popular time for financial thefts, online or off). I received a call from a merchant that asked about a charge on a new card of mine. The funny thing is, I didn’t have an account with that merchant so immediately I started to panic. I learned that the best thing you could do was to get a fraud alert put on your credit accounts by contacting Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, so that any “hard inquiries” would get blocked. Also, I made sure that there was a note on my account to call me for any questions.

From there, I had to open a police report in order to be able to put a watch on my social security and other accounts. I had to contact my bank to ensure that there was not any bad behavior happening. And I did a bunch of other things. What I haven’t really talked about is how much of an unknown the entire process was. There was not as much information on identity theft as there is now. The internet wasn’t as loaded with information and helpful articles as it is now.


Eventually, I learned what had happened with my case. It turns out that a temporary worker at a local warehouse had taken a stack of credit card receipts and was able to access personal information coupled with credit information from that warehouse. They had then proceeded to open a bunch of credit accounts for local stores and were going to the stores quickly purchasing merchandise. I wasn’t the only person who had fallen victim of that particular theft, but that didn’t help me either way. I felt attacked and isolated as a result. And very vulnerable.

Once the case had been “resolved,” I ended up paying for a credit monitoring service. I would get periodic reports on my credit score and history: who had tried to open credit or made an inquiry, or anything strange happening on my accounts, past or present.

But, I think I would rather have had my identity stolen now as opposed to over a decade ago for a few reasons:

  • Identity monitoring services are much more accurate and real-time
  • Banks and credit card services now offer much more fraud protection and proactive alerting
  • There is, as I mentioned, much more information on what to do to prevent ID theft 
  • There are now better ways to craft and even store harder to guess or crack passwords
  • You can get single-use credit card numbers for online and offline shopping
  • There are now many companies that specialize in recovering from identity theft

So, while the technology to prevent and recover has gotten better, the volume of hacks or hack attempts and identity thefts continues to skyrocket. This means that if you have a family, you can no longer just worry about yourself; you need to think much wider to your immediate and even extended family. All people are networked together much more tightly than in past years. Families share common knowledge of items that are frequently used for security items. And since many financial accounts are linked, if a hacker gets access to one account, they could extend into other linked accounts.

Here are six tips I recommend parents follow, and teach to their children, when it comes to personal or financial data:

  1. Teach your children to not share any financial or personal data whatsoever. 
  2. Teach all members of your family, young or old, the skill of creating a strong password. (Hint: There are ways to create a core password and then wrap a formula around it.)
  3. If your children have access to credit or debit cards, be sure that you, as the parent, also have access to their accounts so that you can monitor transactions.
  4. If you have a credit monitoring service, consider looking into whether there is a family plan that can cover all members of your family.
  5. Alternatively, use a password generator to create complex, hard-to-crack passwords and store them (Hint: there are family plans for these services too).
  6. Also pay close attention to legitimate-looking emails as phishing hacks are becoming increasingly popular.

Being careful and informed are the most important things that families can do. Odds are, you will get hacked or your identity stolen. I know I have had some of my accounts breached since having my identity taken. But, since I follow the process of having a unique password for every account, I’m a bit less worried. And my daughters have begun using stronger and unique passwords as they are venturing online. 

You can’t live in fear of being hacked or having your identity stolen. Doing commerce is a regular part of day-to-day life. The only way to ensure no hacking possibility whatsoever would be to live completely off the grid and away from others, which is not a realistic solution. But, if you make it more difficult to be hacked and teach some best practices to your kids and other family members, a thief will (hopefully) look for an easier, more vulnerable target. 

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