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How to protect your identity online

Posted by Ross Bramble on Dec 12th, 2018 | Running a business

How to protect your identity online | Freelancer entering credit card details | Crunch

With the proliferation of social media, it’s become easier than ever for scammers to steal your identity. As technology advances, so do the methods of stealing people’s information. It’s scarily simple nowadays for someone to copy your Facebook profile picture, grab your email address from a phishing scam and be on their merry way.

It’s extra important for freelancers, contractors, and small business owners to maintain vigilance, as your finances, reputation and livelihood hang in the balance. The good news is that there’s plenty of small things that business owners can do keep themselves covered.

What is identity theft?

Well, let’s start with the basics: identity theft is the illegal practice of using another person’s name and/or personal information to obtain credit, loans etc. or even to take money from your account.

Clearly, victims of identity theft are usually left dealing with a significant financial hit, with an estimated annual cost of £193 billion a year.

More recently, identity thieves have been using social media profiles, images and information to create Twitter bots, designed to spread so-called fake news and manufacture support for various political causes or social issues. 13 Russian nationals were indicted for such behaviour during the investigation into election meddling during the 2016 US Presidential race.

Virus software

Here’s a rule internet users of the mid-2000s learned the hard way (thanks, Limewire): make sure you’ve always got the latest virus software on your computer and your phone.

While prevention is always better than cure, given how many adverts, pop-ups and file-downloads can be sprung on you from even the most mundane sources, strong anti-virus software is a must. You can be as safe as you like, but you won’t be able to catch every single risk. That’s where anti-virus software comes in.

Privacy settings

Thanks to the 2018 Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, social media privacy settings have never been more fervently in the public consciousness. Facebook does allow you to completely shut your profile information off from anyone not on your friends list, and also comes with a function that allows you to see what your profile looks like to strangers. If there’s anything you don’t want any old Tom, Dick or Harry knowing, make sure to tweak your settings.

The same is true for any social media platform; nearly all require a phone number or email address to even sign up, so make sure you’ve double-checked your privacy settings and shut down any display of sensitive information.

Under the General Data Protection Act (GDPR for short), you have the right to be forgotten – make sure you exercise that right if you feel uneasy about where your data is being stored. Unsubscribe from all those spammy mailing lists that you’ve been putting up with for the last three years, too. That can be quite a cathartic experience.

Rotate your passwords

Swapping your password every 90 days or so is another brilliant way of keeping identity thieves at bay. Try not to assign the same passwords to multiple websites or accounts, either. Having someone hack a social media profile is stressful enough without then realising how many other more important accounts they can now access.

Keep your passwords complex, with capital letters, obscure keyboard symbols and number chains in them to make them tough to crack. Just don’t forget which one you’re using, lest you find yourself spending 40 minutes hungrily guessing at your JustEat password.

Don’t save your bank card details

When you’re buying something from Amazon or ordering a takeaway, it’s very tempting to save your bank card details and carry on with your day – it’ll make your next check-out easier, right?

Well, let “The Great PSN Hack” of 2011 be your warning. Hackers infiltrated the PlayStation Network – the online service that allows PlayStation users to buy digital content – compromising the information of approximately 77 million players. While there was no immediate evidence of credit card fraud, that’s an awful lot of bank details that could, and still may, have fallen into the wrong hands.

It may take you a couple of extra minutes to fill in your card details, but the time is well spent if it means keeping your data out of nefarious hands.

Beware the phish

It’s tempting to think of our species as old enough and wise enough to know when we’re reading a phishing email. You won’t be getting tricked by any more Nigerian princes, you’ll say, as you blindly click a dodgy link from your council about tax rebates.

Banks telling you suspicious activity has been spotted, HMRC announcing they owe you money, Amazon informing you that the shark onesie you definitely don’t remember ordering is on its way – these are all scams, but you don’t always know that when a scary email header puts you in a tailspin.

We’ve put together a list of tell-tale signs that you’re being baited by a phisherman in our “Tax refund scams – how to stay safe” article.

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