How to protect your personal and financial information online

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There are many steps consumers should take to protect themselves and their loved ones

Protecting personal and financial information has always been an essential focus for all consumers, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to achieve in a world that is moving online. In the past year alone, billions of people have been affected by data breaches, scams, and attacks that have compromised their online profiles.

While preventing every attempt made on your personal information is nearly impossible, there are several things consumers can do to shore up their online security and that of their loved ones. Below you’ll find some expert opinions and information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on how to make that happen.

Bolstering your online security

The first step in making sure you’re safe online is bolstering the security of your electronic devices. Hackers and other dubious individuals will often target consumers personal and financial information by infiltrating faulty computer software, security settings, or by offering some sort of scam. Here are some tips on how you can avoid these attacks.

Update your software and security: Keeping all your devices’ security settings and software -- including any operating systems, apps, and web browsers – up to date will often mitigate many outside threats. If they don't already, ensure that your devices’ settings allow for automatic software updates so that the latest threats are covered.

Be stingy with your personal information: Personal information like your Social Security number, credit card numbers, and bank account information are the easiest avenues for criminals to wreak havoc on your finances. The FTC says that you should only share this information on trusted, encrypted websites that protect your information; you can figure out if a site is encrypted by looking for “https” at the beginning of a web address. However, always remember that if you have any doubts about the source asking for the information then it’s better to not give it to them at all.

Protect your passwords: Your password is often your first line of defense when it comes to protecting your information, so be smart about how you set it up. It’s always safer to use a longer password that includes a variety of symbols and numbers than a short one that doesn’t. You should also refrain from using common words, names, or phrases that are easily guessed or hacked by computer systems. Consumers can add an extra layer of security to their passwords by enabling two-factor authentication or using an encrypted password manager.

Safely dispose of old devices: Keep in mind that any old electronic device that you want to get rid of stores your personal and financial information. Be sure to completely delete your information by cleaning the hard drive and disposing of the device properly.

Avoid common online scams: There are numerous types of online scams that hackers have made good use of over the years. The FTC has provided a list of the most common ones that consumers face daily, but remembering to always stay skeptical online, combined with making sure your settings are up-to-date, will deter many of these ploys. Consumers can also get the latest news and information on developing scams and threats by visiting ConsumerAffairs’ site here.

Keeping your children safe online

While you might think of yourself as a cybersecurity guru that has a complete handle on all online threats, it’s important to recognize that your family is susceptible to these attacks as well. Children and teens, in particular, are often targeted because of their lack of experience. Here are some ways that parents can make sure their kids stay safe online.

Kids and computer security: Just like adults, it is important that children have a firm grasp on proper computer security before entering the online world. Parents should ensure that children know not to share any personal information online. Teaching them to create strong passwords and to be skeptical of online offers will also help them avoid being taken advantage of by criminals and scammers.

Socializing online: One of the internet’s biggest draws for young people is the ability to socialize online through social media and a variety of other websites. However, many of them might not realize that their online actions have real-life consequences. It’s important for parents to teach their kids that anything they post online is out there forever and that they can’t take it back. Additionally, establishing rules for what they post online and what sites they visit can keep them from sharing too much or accessing content that isn’t appropriate.

Parental controls: Although parents should do their best to teach their kids all the necessary skills for staying safe online, using parental controls as an additional safeguard can be a good idea. Many of these tools can be useful for blocking or filtering content that kids try to access, but others can prevent them from sharing personal information online. The FTC says to keep in mind that teens may not be as easily protected by these programs since they may often try to disable or work around them.

Constantly evolving

While the information provided here can act as a good primer for protecting yourself and your loved ones from online threats, it’s important to keep in mind that cybersecurity and the internet is constantly evolving and changing. Staying informed and adapting to meet new threats and challenges is critical to ensuring continued online security.

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