Considering that identity theft is on the rise and that there seems to be a new breach in security at major sites and companies each month, it’s no wonder that people want to protect their private information as much as possible. Identity theft is costing Americans $56 billion per year, and the numbers are rising. 

The key is protecting your “digital self.” So, what is a “digital self?” It’s the persona you put online every time you log on to your computer or your device. Others call it a digital footprint. Often, people use different names and identities when surfing the Internet, and each one is considered a persona. Regardless of the name you use or whatever persona you choose to create for yourself, you have to be sure you’re safe from identity theft. The reason: identity theft leads to financial theft, and the last thing you want is to have your finances compromised.

Every time you go online, your information is tracked and stored. Google is the biggest tracker, as it captures every website you visit, tracks your shopping habits and purchases, scans every social media site you use and stores all the information in order to sell it to others. That includes marketing agencies and other sites that want to target you based on your online searches. 

Protection Starts with Information

Before we get into how to protect yourself online, you’ll want to find out what information is out there about you. Type your name into Nuwber, which will come back with key information like address, phone numbers, social media sites you use, lawsuits and even police records, if there are any. It’s good to know what’s being disseminated about you – because if it’s not correct you’ll have an opportunity to challenge it.

Once you know what information is being shared about you, you can take steps to protect your digital self in only a few minutes each day. Some of these strategies and tactics can take a lot of effort and be time-consuming, but in the end they’ll be worth it because each one will protect your digital self. 

Tactics you can Use

Update your Operating Software

Start by making sure your computer and other devices have the latest operating systems in place. Manufacturers like Apple and Microsoft are continuously updating their operating systems and offering you a chance to download the latest version of their software. Never delete or ignore this opportunity. Instead, choose to upload the latest operating system (OS), as it contains security fixes and updates along with many other tools that make your devices more secure.

Once you have the latest OS in place, update all of your passwords with what experts call “strong passwords.” A strong password is 10 characters long, with numbers, letters and symbols that have upper and lowercase letters in them. Plus, you’ll want to have a unique password for each and every site you visit, otherwise if someone is able to hack one of your passwords, they’ll have access to every site you visit.

It would be hard, if not impossible, to remember that many passwords with that many characters, so download a password management software to generate and manage your passwords. Some of the top ones include Nordpass, Dashlane, LastPass and Bitwarden. By having that software create and manage your passwords, it’s unlikely that someone will be able to gain access to your passwords. 

Install Antivirus Software

Having antivirus software onboard your devices is another level of protection designed to keep you safe – and not sorry. It prevents bad actors from downloading malware and other hacking software that can infiltrate your system – and ultimately hack your identity. Some of the top software includes Bitdefender Antivirus, Kaspersky, Norton Antivirus and TrendMicro.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

Want more peace-of-mind when accessing a site online? Use two-factor authentication. When you log in and enter your password, you’ll see a box that asks for an authentication code. This is a number that is sent to your registered smartphone. Once you receive it and enter it on the site, you’re allowed access. It’s another level of protection you can use, and most people consider this the “new normal.” 

Avoid Using Public WiFi

You order up a cappuccino at your favorite coffee shop, pick an outside table in the shade and log in to the Internet with your device, using the shop’s public WiFi. The only problem is, anyone sitting within range can detect your login, and end up stealing your password and other information. Once they have that, it’s just a few more clicks to hack into your device and steal your identity. 

You should use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which keeps hackers out and your information safe and sound. Some of the top ones include SurfShark, TunnelBear, CybeGhost and IPVanish, among others. 

Use a Private Browser

The problem with logging onto the Internet is that every site you visit will leave cookies on your device, those little morsels of information. If you opt out of allowing cookies, many sites won’t let you in, or will restrict what you can search and see.

Instead, use a private browser, which uses a network of anonymous computers to log onto the Internet. Some of the top ones include DuckDuckGo, Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi and Opera. Using these will help to keep cookies off your device.

By implementing these steps and being cautious about what you share online and which emails you respond to, you’ll be helping to protect your digital self in only a few minutes a day.

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