How to stay safer online: Your online privacy and device security checklist for 2021
Whatever you do online – posting on Facebook, paying your credit card bill, or shopping for presents at your favorite online retailer – you are vulnerable to cyber threats. Scammers are always on the hunt for personal information, credit card and bank account details, and other such valuable information that they can use for fraudulent activities. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to protect your online privacy. If you were to follow only just one rule, it should be this: Never give your personal or financial information to any person or company that emails, texts, or calls you. Let’s take a look at some of the other steps you can take.
- Check your bank and credit card statements
If someone steals your Aadhaar number, or passwords, or banking information, they can cause a lot of damage quickly. For instance, they can siphon your bank account, run up charges on your credit card, or take loans in your name. It is, therefore, important to closely monitor your credit reports, bank account statements, and credit card statements for suspicious activity. Look for purchases that you didn’t make, payments you didn’t authorize, cards or loans you didn’t apply for, or withdrawals that look suspicious. If you notice something odd, contact your bank and credit card provider immediately.
- Invest in a VPN
A virtual private network, or VPN, is one of the most important tools for boosting online privacy. It’s a way to surf the web while preventing prying eyes of businesses, governments, and hackers from seeing what you browse. When you log onto the internet with a VPN, it looks like your IP address is the same as the one attached to the remote server operated by your VPN provider. This keeps your identity and location secret from snoops. There are free VPN services available, but the ones that you pay for may provide more comprehensive protection.
- Don’t use public Wi-Fi to access personal or financial information
Avoid logging into your online bank account or credit card portal using free Wi-Fi in public places or coffee shops or hotel lobbies. Such Wi-Fi connections often have lax security measures. Cyber snoops can easily intercept your online activity and steal your login credentials. It is okay to use public Wi-Fi for only those tasks that don’t expose your personal information. If you want to protect your privacy even better while using public Wi-Fi, log into your VPN provider before accessing the web.
- Install device security software and update it frequently
In today’s world where we are using multiple devices to connect, engage and interact personally and professionally, having only an anti-virus on devices is not enough. Hackers are constantly unleashing new viruses. There are cyber threats that exist within the network we are connected to as well as through various applications that are connected to our PC or mobile phones. It is important, therefore, to install and run trusted device security software on all devices to prevent viruses and malware from infecting it. Once you install the software, make sure to allow the updates requested by its makers. These updates are often developed to fight new viruses, trojans, and malware. Investing in a comprehensive security software that protects our devices, networks and ultimately our data, is the need of the hour.
- Watch out for phishing scams
Phishing is a favorite trick of scammers who use fake emails and texts to try to trick you into giving them your personal and financial information, or even the log-in credentials of your online bank accounts or credit card portals. Here’s how it works: you will receive an unsolicited email, seemingly from one of your banks or service providers, saying that your account or your card needs to be verified to prevent it from being suspended. It will have a link that directs you to a web page that asks you to fill out your personal and financial information. Do not ever provide such information. Please know that your banks or service providers will never ask for such information online.
- Change your passwords
Changing your passwords regularly can go a long way in keeping scammers from accessing your online accounts. When you set new passwords, make them complicated, using a hard-to-guess combination of symbols, numbers, letters or passphrases.
- Use two-factor authentication for as many sites as possible
Please use two-factor authentication for all sites that offer it, especially for banks, healthcare, and financial services. It generally requires you to enter your username and password, followed by a prompt to enter a code number that’s texted or emailed to you. The extra login step greatly reduces the chances of hackers breaking into the sites you visit.
- Protect your privacy on social media
The private information that you post on social media sites can be used by scammers to steal your identity. You can improve your social media privacy, though, by making the necessary adjustments to your settings on these accounts. The simplest and most important way to boost your online privacy is to be careful about what you post on social media. Avoid giving away personal information such as the city you live in, or your date of birth, or your residential address, or your phone number. Be careful, too, about even using your full first and last names.
- Never accept offers for “free” in-game currency, cheat codes, or upgrades
Many popular video games offer gamers the chance to buy in-game currency, cheat codes, weapons upgrades, and other stuff. Such purchases are in high demand. Please, however, do not accept such offers from fellow gamers; they are often scams that could expose your device to malware or spyware that enable crooks to break into your online bank accounts or credit card portals. Also, do not ever share your gaming username and password with anyone – least of all, with other online gamers.
- File your tax returns early
Filing your tax returns early can help protect your privacy by preventing scammers from filing a fraudulent tax return in your name. This can happen if cyber criminals have gained access to your personal details. By doing so, they can take away whatever tax refund the fake return filing might yield.