Imagine that a person were to knock on your door, and they say that they’re from the electric company and they need to enter to inspect a faulty meter reader in your home, would you let them in? Even if they appear to be wearing an official-looking uniform, and may know your name, if your first thought is to be suspicious and perhaps decline, then you’re on the right track to protecting yourself from scams, robbery, or worse outcomes.
The unfortunate reality is that similar scams exist online, and not everyone knows how to safeguard themselves accordingly. There are people out there who try and get your personal data, including your bank account information, social security number, and log-in information to access your private files. We’ve come up with some simple, but important, tips to protect your personal data.
Identifying Common Attempts to Get Your Information
Do you recall seeing an image like this shared with you? Have you ever done it?
Seems like a fun way to find out your Star Wars name, however, notice that the last steps of finding your Star Wars last name ask you to combine parts of your mother’s maiden name and the town you were born in. These types of questions are often the security questions to unlock an account when you “Forget Your Password.”
While this attempt to get your personal information seems to give hackers only hints to answers to your security questions, it’s not difficult to figure out the town in which you were born, nor find relatives in your Friends List on Facebook that potentially match your mom’s maiden name. Most password resets only ask two security questions, often including just these two, so if you find out your Star Wars name and share it, you’ve just made it that much easier for hackers to access your personal accounts.
Some hackers may send you legitimate-looking emails that look like they come from your banking institution:
Emails like these legitimately look like they come from your actual banking institution, but always, ALWAYS be wary of any email related to your banking accounts. Notice that the “From” email rightfully looks like an official address, but the server is actually alert.bankofamerica.doc.com. That extra piece of the address shows that this email is NOT from bankofamerica.com, but from bankofamerica.doc.com, a wholly different site. Clicking on any of the links within the email could lead you to a site asking you to log in to your banking account, but really it’s just logging your username, password, and any other information you provide.
If you ever receive an email that’s suspect, don’t trust anything in that email, including contact information. As the Federal Trade Commission warns, “Make sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information. Don’t give out personal information on the phone, through the mail or over the Internet unless you’ve initiated the contact or know who you’re dealing with.” To safely find out if the correspondence you’ve received is legit, go to your web browser and type in the official website address yourself to access your account, or call your bank’s official customer service line to investigate.
Protecting Personal Data on Your Computer and Mobile Phone
The day will come when you throw out your old computer or mobile device, either by choice (it needs an upgrade) or involuntarily (it crashes and is no longer operable). The thing is, you store loads of personal data including things like saved passwords, credit card numbers, health records, tax returns, and other personal files. Even if the device is no longer functional, believe it or not, hackers can still access the data that resides on it by other means.
So what do you do before saying farewell to your hardware? Assuming that you’ve already backed up and made separate copies of files you’ve wanted to keep, you need to wipe the memory slate clean. Even if you manually delete files via your PC’s Recycle Bin or Mac’s Trash, as Techlicious.com says, “Even if a file name doesn’t show up on the list of available files, the old file data is still there until it is overwritten and a bad guy can use a data recovery program to retrieve it.”
Performing a disk format alone also does not fully erase data. What you’ll need to do is perform a hard drive wipe, which first deletes your data, then overwrites where it resided, effectively deleting it permanently. Both Microsoft and Apple provide helpful guides on how to backup and wipe your hard drives. (For more in-depth detail on wiping a PC hard drive, check out this guide). When it comes to your mobile phones, contact your cell phone service provider on how to properly wipe the memory on your phone.
These are all foundational steps to take to protect your personal data. Always be aware about who and where you are giving your personal data to and why. It’s better to err on the side of caution and be suspicious any time you provide personal information, even information you may not deem so personal, like the make and model of the first car you drove, or your best friend’s name, or the name of your third grade teacher, or… You get the idea.
Perhaps you know of someone that this article can be useful to? Send this to them! Let us know what other tips YOU have for protecting yourself and safeguarding your personal data.