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15 tips for staying safe online and preventing identity theft

What are some simple tips, tricks and best-practice methods of keeping yourself and your digital identity safe from hackers?

Topic: Security
1 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Stay clear of sending sensitive data across public Wi-Fi networks

As Europol recently warned, public Wi-Fi networks are, by nature, not secure. However, as we sit in Starbucks and browse the Web, check our email or log in to Facebook, security is often far off our list of priorities.

For hackers who monitor free networks or set up similarly-named hotspots to dupe users in to connecting before grabbing sensitive data including account information, passwords or financial details, such services are easy game. 

In addition, keep in mind that public computers can have software installed on them which monitor you or your keystrokes without your knowledge. 

2 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Use double verification systems

It might take a little longer, but using double verification methods can prevent accounts being accessed if you fall prey to a phishing campaign or your original password is guessed. 

PayPal and Google, for example, allow you to link your account with your mobile device. In the case of the former, you must input your password as well as a code sent to your mobile in order to access your account. 

3 of 15 Ministry of Tech

Shred documents while at home

Banking statements and utility bills all display personal, sensitive information that give "dumpster divers" dollar signs in their eyes. People are not below wading through your garbage in order to get their hands on this data, which can then be used to fake your identity, steal it, or potentially access your accounts. 

In addition, pre-approved credit card offers could be used by thieves for applying for credit at a different address -- potentially wrecking your credit score and leaving you with the bill further down the line.

The solution? Invest in a shredder. 

4 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Do not share your passwords or leave them lying around

It might seem simple enough, but do not share passwords for your online bank accounts, payment systems, social media accounts or email inboxes with anyone. Furthermore, writing down passwords can also lead to a breach of privacy.

5 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Keep an eye on your credit score

If your identity has been stolen or financial details sold on, whether through a fault of your own or if you were a customer of a firm that fell prey to a cyberattack -- -- your credit score is likely to be affected. Signing up for a 30 day free trial on occasion or maintaining a subscription so you are alerted when changes take place will help you act quickly if something goes wrong. 

6 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Watch out for phishing websites and fake campaigns

Phishing campaigns are popular methods for cybercriminals to fleece you of your savings and steal personal information. Often found in the form of spam emails that pretend to be reputable companies, a victim clicks on a link and is sent to a website that appears to be legitimate. Once you arrive, the website may ask you to submit forms containing sensitive information including (but not limited to) your social security number, bank account details, full name, address and phone number. 

Take a breath, relax, and do not act based on panic. If you receive an email supposedly from your bank, call them instead and confirm whether or not the email is fake. Keep in mind that most companies, and certainly the majority of banks, will never ask you for full passwords or account details via an email. 

7 of 15 CNET

Use an antivirus program on desktop and mobile

Installing anti-virus and anti-malware programs is not just a requirement for desktop PCs any longer -- with malware that targets mobile devices on the rise, you should consider downloading some form of protection on to your smartphones and tablets as well. 

There are a number of options on the market, both free and paid, offered by vendors including Malwarebytes, Avast and Intego.



8 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Unique passwords and frequent changes

When some of the most currently in use include "password1," "qwerty" and "ninja," you know that there are basic security problems out there which are easily fixed.

Use a combination of letters and numbers, and make sure you use unique passwords for different services online -- so if one account is compromised, you may be able to prevent unauthorized access to the rest. 



9 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Shop only at reputable websites

If a clothing or gadget sale online looks too good to be true, it probably is. If you see a padlock next to your browser address, then a secure SSL encryption is in place, and so any financial details input will at least be encrypted. However, if you see none, steer clear. Fake websites, counterfeit boutiques -- any website which doesn't originate from a reputable source could place your bank account or identity at risk. 

10 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Keep data divulging on social networks to a minimum

As my , sending out a single innocuous tweet containing sensitive information can lead to an avalanche of data which can be discovered and taken from you.

To avoid giving hackers a digital trail, keep the sharing of personal information to a minimum on social networks, and make sure your privacy settings are set as highly as possible. From checking in to a bank and posting it on FourSquare to using GSP technology for sharing your home city or address, a single fact about you can lead to identity theft.

When asked for security questions, consider using fake details, so even if facts about you are discovered they will not line up with the questions asked to access accounts. 

11 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Secure your wireless network

Just because your wireless network is at home doesn't mean it is secure. Make sure you enable WPA encryption to prevent infiltrators from poaching your bandwidth or monitoring your network without consent -- which can lead to a detailed profile of your website visits. 

12 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Only download software from reputable sources

In the same way that you should only shop from reputable online stores, do the same if you need to download software. If not, you may find your system compromised by trojans or backdoor malicious code. If you're not sure, consider using a search engine, typing in the name of the website and 'review.'

13 of 15 Splashdata

Keep software up to date

It isn't just antivirus software that needs to be kept updated, but browsers, operating systems, and third-party software. From Windows machines to Java, keep software up-to-date to make sure exploits and vulnerabilities which could carve a path in to your system are patched in good time. 

14 of 15 Charlie Osborne/ZDNet

Be wary of social media-spread fake contests and links

Facebook and Twitter are full to the gills with scams, contests and sweepstakes that are fake, but don't be fooled. Before submitting any personal information, check the validity of offers (hey, it's unlikely 4000 Samsung S5s are being given away, right?) and don't make any immediate decisions.

15 of 15 CNET

If a job seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Working from home and flexible schedules are on the rise, but sadly, cybercriminals use the desperation of people seeking work to steal personal information from them. Any firm offering lucrative hours, incredible salaries and work-from-home positions should undergo a thorough background check, and do not pay any fees for processing or give away data involving your bank account, password, or home details. 

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