It’s important to take several steps to help keep your online data safe. During the holiday shopping season, shoppers are looking for the perfect gifts. At the same time, criminals are looking for sensitive data. This data includes passwords, credit or debit card numbers, financial accounts and especially Social Security numbers.

Online Data on Santa's List

Anyone with an online presence should do these few simple things to protect their identity and keep online data safe from predators and fraudsters.

  • Shop at familiar online retailers. Generally, sites with an “s” in “https” at the start of the URL, are secure. Users can also look for the “lock” icon in your browser’s URL bar. That said, some criminals may get a security certificate, so the “s” may not always mean a site is legitimate.
  • Avoid unprotected Wi-Fi. Users should never do online financial transactions when using unprotected public Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi is never private. Unprotected public Wi-Fi hotspots may allow thieves to view your transactions. Use a virtual private network to keep your data private.
  • Recognize and avoid phishing emails that pose as a trusted source. These emails can come from a source that looks like a legitimate bank or even the IRS. These emails almost always include a link that is tainted or takes the user to a fake website. From there, the thieves can steal usernames and passwords.
  • Keep a clean machine. This includes computers, phones and tablets. Users should install security software to protect against malware that may steal data or install Ransomware. This software also protects against viruses that may damage files. Be sure to always keep your software updated and set them to update automatically.
  • Use passwords that are strong, long and unique. Experts suggest a minimum of 10 characters. Use a combination of upper-case and lower-case letters plus some numbers and symbols mixed in. Use phrases or a sentence. It is most important that you ALWAYS use a different password for each of your important online accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication when available. Some financial institutions, email providers and social media sites allow users to set their accounts for multi-factor authentication. This means users may need a security code, usually sent as a text to their mobile phone, in addition to a username and password.
  • Sign up for account alerts. Some financial institutions will send email or text alerts to an account holder when there is a withdrawal or change to their accounts. Generally, people can check their account profile to see what added protections may be available.
  • Encrypt sensitive date and protect it with a password. People who keep financial records, tax returns or any personal information on their computer should protect this data. Users should also back up important data to an external source. When disposing of a computer, mobile phone or tablet, it is extremely important that people make sure they wipe the hard drive of all information, including their printer, before disposing or trashing.

For additional tips, read my previous article about how to Shop Safely on Cyber Monday