Tips to Protect Your Digital Identity

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Within the last decade, our senses of self and identity have made a major shift.  Whether we’ve noticed it or not, the items that used to define our identities have gone from hard copy items, such as birth certificates and Social Security cards, to online banking passwords, Facebook logins, and mobile wallets stored in our smartphones.  While we still need to safeguard and protect those hard copy documents, we also have to focus on our digital identities.

Our digital identities are made up of all kinds of new information, such as smartphone passcodes, Twitter feeds, and Instagram photo albums, all of which can be accessed by a thief just by picking up our smartphones. After all, we do love our mobile devices, don’t we? We love them so much, in fact, that some industry estimates once predicted there would be more smartphones than humans on the planet by last year. At just over 7.3 billion anticipated devices, that’s a lot of connectivity happening, and a lot of digital identification floating around for anyone to nab.

So how do we stay safe with so many of us relying on a little plastic box for news, information, and entertainment? There are a number of ways our devices can “betray” us to an identity thief, so it’s important to make sure we do our best to safeguard our devices and our information.

  1. Practice Good Password Hygiene: It can’t be said enough…you must use strong, unique passwords on all of your connected accounts, as well as a separate code to lock your device itself. What is strong? A combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, and the use of at least one number and one symbol. What is unique? That means not coming up with one easy-to-remember (and therefore easy to steal) password and using it on all of your accounts.
  2. Review Privacy Settings Often: Are you staying on top of your privacy settings? You might think so, but have you taken a look at all of the apps you downloaded to your smartphone? Some of those apps have permissions to access your calendar, your location, your contacts list, and more. Make sure everything that can access your private content really needs that kind of permission. If not, adjust it or delete it.
  3. Log Out of Your Accounts: Are you snap happy when it comes to uploading content instantly to Facebook or Instagram? Do you check your bank balance routinely on your phone? If you’re leaving these accounts logged in, all it takes is simply dropping your phone in public and letting an unscrupulous person find it. Even someone just looking to pull a prank can post malicious and embarrassing things to your social media accounts, things that could actually end up costing you your job. Anyone looking to cause a little more damage can wipe out your online banking accounts with just a few finger swipes.
  4. Minimize the Amount of Saved Information on Your Devices: Remember, our smartphones are like little tablet computers, and saving a lot of data in your phone—like emails, documents, photographs, and Dropbox shared files—increases the likelihood that a thief can piece together enough information about you to do some serious damage.
  5. Protect Yourself by Using Anti-Virus Apps: Still treating it like a computer means your smartphone or tablet needs to be protected. There are anti-virus applications you can use, and remember to update these measures as needed.

Hopefully we haven’t reached the point where a thief can empty your bank account just by flashing your smartphone at the teller, but your device still contains a wealth of information that you must protect. While it’s not the same as your driver’s license or your passport—at least not in terms of some of the access it can provide, like boarding an airplane—your digital identity still carries a lot of weight, especially where your financial identity is concerned and in what face you present to the world on social media. Protect your mobile device just like you would any other form of documentation, and remember to keep it from falling into the wrong hands.

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Nikki Junker

Nikki Junker is Social Media Coordinator and Victim Advisor at The Identity Theft Resource Center. She specializes in Identity Theft on social networks and smartphones. She enjoys working one on one with victims of identity theft as well as researching and writing about preventative measures for consumers.