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Protect yourself before you wreck yourself

Remember those LifeLock commercials? The ones where the company's CEO, Todd Davis, provides his Social Security number on the side of a truck? If so, you probably also remember reading about the numerous times his identity has been stolen. Probably not the marketing strategy he was hoping for, but Davis isn't alone in his loss. Even those Americans who don't advertise their Social Security numbers on the sides of trucks are having their identities stolen in record numbers. According to a recent CNN Money article, 47% of U.S. adults have had their personal information exposed within the last year. To be clear, the exposing of personal information isn't the same as identity theft, but it does leave identities more vulnerable to theft.

Target, eBay, AOL, Snapchat and more: these businesses, which are part of our daily lives, have inadvertently shared identifying information about users, ranging from basic information (name, location, birthdate) to our credit card numbers. Scary, right? Well, maybe not as scary as it should be. Consumers have become so used to hearing about these data breaches that we no longer take them as seriously as we once did. According to a Pew report, only 40% of people changed their passwords after the recent Heartbleed bug. (Hey, everybody? Maybe change your passwords once you finish reading this article.)

Don't be that guy

There are some pretty basic ways to protect your personal information. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) outlines them on their website:

  1. Know who you share information with
  2. Store and dispose of your personal information securely, especially your Social Security number
  3. Ask questions before deciding to share your personal information
  4. Maintain appropriate security on your computers and other electronic devices

Okay, maybe that isn't as easy as it sounds after all. For example, what if you want to buy something from a major chain's .com? Sure, you know who you're buying from, but how do you dispose of your personal information in that situation? Luckily, the FTC gets more specific. Here are some online tips:

Safely Dispose of Personal Information

Before you get rid of your old computer or mobile device, be sure to remove all personal information. You can use a wipe utility program to overwrite the hard drive, and be sure to remove the SIM card, too.

Encrypt Your Data

Use encryption software that scrambles information on your browser. The "lock" icon on the status bar will alert you that it's safe to send your information. Always check for this before sending personal or financial information.

Keep Passwords Private

Use a better password—not your mother's maiden name or the street you live on. The FTC recommends that you "think of a special phrase and use the first letter of each word as your password. Substitute numbers for some words or letters. For example, 'I want to see the Pacific Ocean' could become '1W2CtPo'."

You can get more information and helpful tips from the FTC at their website: consumer.ftc.gov. They have information about locking up laptops, avoiding phishing scams, and how to be wise about WiFi.

How Webroot Can Help

Are you among the 60% of people who didn't change your password? Or are you looking to make your passwords more secure? Let us help. This how-to video will walk you through it step by step.

Other Helpful Links

The Federal Trade Commission:
http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft

Identity Theft Resource Center:
http://www.idtheftcenter.org/

Sources:

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