Tips: DEFEND Against Cyberthieves

The proliferation and usage of mobile devices is exponentially growing, as is consumers' dependence on the Web, causing many to lose sight of the importance of keeping their personal information and social media profiles secure and protected.

According to a recent survey conducted on behalf of ProtectMyID, 90 percent of respondents own a laptop or a PC, while nearly half (49 percent) own a smartphone. Many people who own these devices aren't taking even simple steps to protect their valuable information. In fact, nearly 54 percent of respondents do not use a password to lock their phone and/or tablet.

The data also reveals that people are using smartphones and/or tablets to access private, personal information through a variety of online channels such as email and Facebook accounts. Nearly 50 percent of respondents are accessing online Websites such as Amazon, eBay and their bank accounts. While many likely realize security concerns related to using the same passwords for different online accounts, 66 percent of respondents report using the same password for at least two accounts.

"The increase in Web activity and popularity of social media sites has provided a ripe location for people to easily gather information about others and use it for identity theft," said Ken Chaplin, senior vice president for Experian's ProtectMyID. "A common misconception is that identity theft won't happen to you. However, no one is immune, especially in difficult economic times. People need to think about the information that they make public and how it could be used."

Additional highlights from the survey include:

  • More than 50 percent of people (51 percent) do not click the logout link or button when they are finished with social media and other online accounts, leaving them vulnerable should their phone or laptop/tablet become lost or stolen.
  • Many social networks have given users the power to set their privacy settings; however, only 18 percent of survey respondents proactively manage their privacy settings on an ongoing basis.
  • More than 50 percent of respondents provide their birth date (61 percent), educational background (56 percent) and email addresses (51 percent) on social media profile settings.

"Oftentimes, consumers underestimate the negative repercussions that can occur after an online account or computer has been hacked," said Whitlock. "Victims often do the logical thing -- change passwords and/or contact the online site -- however, they neglect to realize that their personal information is now in jeopardy. First and foremost, if you believe an account has been hacked, contact your bank and credit card company immediately to preclude false charges and negative effects to your credit."

To help consumers "DEFEND" themselves against cyberthieves, Experian's ProtectMyID and Whitlock offer the following tips:

  • Defy curiosity. Never open an attachment or click on a link unless it's something you've specifically requested from someone you know. Just because an email is from a friend or a coworker doesn't make it free of malware. Click the "x" on all pop-up ads to avoid infection, and never download free software unless it's from a trusted site.
  • Educate yourself about technology. Become tech-savvy: Know what security software you need to keep your computer -- and yourself — safe online. Don't let down your guard by letting your protection lapse. Always keep your antivirus and spyware protection updated.
  • Fix your passwords. Using the same password for more than one account or a password that's easy to guess opens the door to identity thieves. Change passwords regularly, never disclose them to others and vary them among different accounts.
  • Embrace your paranoia. Yes, there are people out there who are out to get you. Don't forget it.
  • Negate putting personal information online. You wouldn't provide your personal identifiers to just anyone on the street who asks for them, so don't do it online. Become as proactive in protecting your personal, private information online as you are in other areas of your life. Don't even think of doing anything of a personal nature on a public computer. Remember that posting personal data on social networking sites makes you a target for identity thieves.
  • Deploy safety precautions. Online fraudsters are constantly changing their tactics, making it hard to stay abreast of every new scheme. Frequently monitor your accounts and financial statements, and check your credit reports at least once a year.

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