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Data compromises can cripple a business since it destroys the consumer’s trust in the brand and may literally cost them money due to identity theft. The theft of information can also cost businesses money when their designs are stolen by rivals. Data compromises hurt individuals by making them reluctant to buy online. It reduces their willingness to use certain payment methods and it can literally cost them money when their identity is stolen.

Here are five ways to stop data from being compromised.

Be vigilant

Check your accounts regularly and don’t wait for the monthly statement. The sooner you see suspicious activity and challenge it, the more likely it is that the businesses will agree with you that it is not really you and stop the transaction. This is why responding to a phone call asking you to verify that you were trying to open a store credit card is essential, though you need to avoid giving personally identifiable information like Social Security Numbers and driver’s license numbers, in case it is a scammer trying to get that information from you.

Another variation of this theme is opening everything that looks like a bill that comes in a mail, though they are often marketing messages. This ensures that you don’t throw out a bill sent to you because a thief has used your information to set up a service. It prevents the service from seeing several bills go unanswered for months before sending it to collections while arguing the charges are legitimate because you didn’t protest it for three months.

You should also pull your credit report at least once a year. If you see credit cards, utilities, and other financial transactions you didn’t incur yourself, start contacting these institutions to get information. You’ll want to file a police report for the identity theft case since this is necessary for many companies to cancel the services and not bill you for it. If concerned, freeze your credit reports so that no credit can be issued against it. Note that this won’t limit the ability of a bank or credit union you already work with from telling you your credit score, continuing to do business with you, or helping you set up a new account.

Why do we say be vigilant instead of relying on a credit monitoring service? Because credit monitoring services only warn you of the breach, and they may not send you the warning until well after you’d notice it yourself.

Take your password to a higher level

After a website has been compromised, you need to change the password. However, the best step to take is to improve the password by making it more secure. If you don’t know how to make a stronger password, we’ll give you a few tips. First, don’t use obvious information like birth dates, marriage dates, and apartment numbers. Second, use a mix of letters and numbers while mixing their case. This is harder for algorithms to guess before being locked out, even if they know what the likely letters and numbers in your password are. Third, incorporate special characters, as long as they are not characters the website won’t recognize. For example, some websites will process pound signs or exclamation points as a command, and you shouldn’t use them on those sites as part of the password.

Don’t use the same password across many different platforms and try not to save passwords in browsers. Make certain that password managers aren’t actually malware. Malicious software can also be used to discover passwords on your machine through the saved password directory, so be mindful of that.

Guard your information

Challenge anyone who asks for personally identifiable information to justify their need; there are too many who ask for all the information when they really only need a fraction of it for their purpose. A side benefit of this approach is that you are likely to weed out the scammers, so you don’t accidentally give your SSN to someone pretending to be from a recruitment agency.

There are other things you can do to protect yourself. Shred credit card offers and other financial paperwork instead of just throwing it out. This prevents a thief from stealing a credit card offer sent to your home, filling it out as you, and then sending it in. Shred financial statements whether they are this month’s credit card bill or seven-year-old tax returns.

You should also check all your online accounts. Consider deleting credit card information from accounts, so that someone who hacks the online service doesn’t get your payment information. Link to third-party payment systems like PayPal instead. Set up your kids’ accounts for their gaming or online media purchases with an allowance you send via your parental account instead of having your credit card information visible from their account; this also prevents someone who walks up to an unattended computer from ordering a ton of stuff sent to their home.

Proactively protect yourself

There are steps you can take to proactively prevent data theft. Don’t just cut up a credit card when you’re done with it. Call the institution and cancel the account. This prevents someone else from stealing the information and running up a debt in your name.

Research the IT security record for a business before setting up an account with them. If in doubt, pay cash or buy a gift card somewhere else to pay for the item. If the website lacks security features, don’t buy something from the site. If your browser warns you that the site is insecure, don’t log into it.

If you receive warning emails that your account may have been hacked, don’t just click the link and log in. This is a common tactic used to steal your credentials. Instead, go to your browser and enter the website address directly. You can update your password if desired there. When you notice a phishing email, use the “flag as phishing” button available through most email programs to notify the ISP that the message is spam instead of just ignoring it.

Remember the IT solutions at your disposal

It is amazing how many people ignore the IT solutions at their disposal. Turn on the firewall on your router. Install antivirus software and keep it up to date. Update software like browsers and Java, especially after security holes are identified. Run virus scans on a regular basis. Know what a real virus notice looks like on your computer so that you don’t inadvertently click on a fake scam notice and end up installing malware on your computer.

Conclusion

If you want to reduce the chances of your data being compromised, follow the tips in this article. Be vigilant and monitor your own accounts regularly. Create a secure password for each service and don’t use the same password across many services. Guard your information, refusing to share it with those who don’t need to know it and limiting who gets it. Proactively investigate the security of websites and businesses before using them. And don’t neglect to keep IT security solutions under your control up to date. It is good to know what the legitimate warnings look like so you don’t accidentally click on fake notices.

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