When it comes to personal data security, there’s no such thing as waiting ’til next year. That’s why the time is now to make resolutions about safeguarding your identity for 2016.
Here are five simple steps you can take even while viewing this article on your device:
1. Set strong, unique passwords. One of the most important things you can do to protect yourself from hacking is to make sure you have strong, unique passwords on all your online accounts. What does that mean? A unique password is just what it sounds like: Don’t use the same password for all of your accounts. It’s tempting to keep everything simple with one memorized password, but if your passwords are always the same, you’re handing access to all of your accounts to a hacker.
A strong password, however, is one that contains enough separate information to confuse a hacker and any software he might be using to spoof your information. A strong password is at least eight characters long, contains a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, contains one number and one symbol, and doesn’t contain any part of your name.
2. Check in with credit card companies. Another easy step is to contact your credit card companies and set up account alerts. This means that every time someone uses your card, you can receive a text message or email. If you use your card a lot and don’t want to be contacted every time, you can also sign up for just a “Card Not Present” alert, so that any time your card is used without the physical card (since it’s still in your wallet), you’ll be informed.
3. Shred your documents. Before 2016 ever gets here, treat yourself to a present that will give you a lot of peace of mind: a quality cross-cut shredder. By shredding all of your documents, receipts, or any other paper that contains your personal information, you’ll be helping to ensure that your identity doesn’t fall into the wrong hands. It’s a good habit to develop for your security.
4. Prep your tax documents. Tax refund fraud is a serious issue that affects Americans to the tune of $6 billion every year, and it’s only getting bigger. By deciding right now that you’re going to file taxes the moment all of your documentation arrives, you can prevent a thief from stealing your tax refund. Prepare all of the paperwork you’ll need before the New Year, so that when the last pieces of the puzzle arrive in January, you’re ready to go.
5. Online “social” security. Your final New Year’s data resolution is to watch out for your online behaviors. Are you oversharing on social media? Do you have your privacy settings at the highest level? Are your anti-virus and anti-malware software up to date on your computer? If not, now is the time to take action.
By correcting any issues and adopting safer habits now, you can breeze into the New Year while confident that your information is as safe as you can make it.
Eva Velasquez is president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center.