It’s a good thing that New Year’s follows so closely on the heels of the holiday calorie season since many of us use that time to make resolutions. We promise ourselves we’ll get healthier, take better control of our finances, or any number of other “tough road ahead” goals that (unfortunately) we tend to let go of before too long. But there’s one resolution you can make that is actually very easy to follow, and that’s promising to take better care of your privacy and your data.
Here are some very easy changes you can make that will quickly become solid habits to protect your information and your privacy:
- Shred it – Take advantage of the post-holiday sales by investing in a small, quality cross-cut shredder. A home office model is perfect for destroying any important papers, bank or medical statements, old receipts, or anything that needs to be kept out of an identity thief’s hands.
If you don’t want to purchase one, you can look in the phone book to see if your town offers low-cost shredding services. There are even charitable organizations that operate shredding services, meaning your sensitive papers get destroyed and you get to help out some very deserving people.
- Protect your tech – Whether you treated yourself to a new device this holiday season or you’re still using a previous year’s model, the same rule applies: you’ve got to protect it with quality antivirus and anti-malware software.
But it’s not enough just to buy a disk and install it. You have to update it regularly, which is simple and can be done automatically if you choose. Without these critical updates, your computer only knows about viruses that existed when you installed, so keep those updates coming.
- Protect what you do on your phone – A lot more people are relying on their mobile devices for sensitive Internet behaviors, like shopping or conducting online banking transactions. And while that’s a really convenient option, you have to remember that your smartphone or tablet is just a mini-computer. It’s vulnerable to hacking too, especially if you’re connecting over public or unsecured Internet connections.
That’s why you need a VPN. A virtual private network provides you with your own “tunnel” to get on the Internet, and it helps to keep others from seeing what you’re doing.
- Monitor your credit – This one might be the only one that takes a little time to develop as a good habit, and that’s only because it requires you to take a little action. As a US consumer, you’re entitled to one free copy of your credit report each year from each of the three reporting agencies. And while there are services that will provide you with these reports (be mindful of the fine print on some of them, though, as some are subscription services masquerading as “free”), you can request them yourself.
Even better, you can request them one at a time instead of having a service provider just send you all three at once. Why is one at a time better? Because you can order one report in January, another one in April, and the third on in September, or any other convenient calendar system. That way, you’ll have a fresh peek at your credit report all throughout the year…for free.
The best part of these habits is the fact that it takes only a little practice to make them a permanent part of your identity protection arsenal. Of course, there are some things that are out of your control, like hacking or data breaches, but you can certainly minimize your risk and prevent other forms of identity theft from reaching you.