With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are spending more time online than ever before. We are working online. Going to school online. Socially distancing together online. Unfortunately, there is an unwanted guest knocking at our digital front door: the cybercriminal. Particularly for families of wealth, the threat is very real, and the potential stakes are high.
The question is: how can we put safeguards in place to protect our privacy and keep cybercriminals at bay without severely inconveniencing our families or cutting ourselves off from the digital world? The good news is there are practical strategies we can implement. Below are five steps you can take to strengthen your family’s privacy and protect your personal information:
Freeze your credit, don’t just monitor it –While credit monitoring services certainly have their merit, it is important to remember that they can provide delayed – and in some cases no – credit alerts to suspicious activity. Credit monitoring alone is not enough to prevent identity theft.
Take the additional step of adding a free online security freeze with each major credit bureau. You will need to remove the security freezes when you want to initiate a new hard or soft credit inquiry. An example of a soft credit inquiry is when you check to see what credit cards you prequalify for. An example of a hard credit inquiry is when you apply for a mortgage, and your full credit report needs to be reviewed by the lender. Thankfully, for most people, the need for a credit inquiry happens relatively infrequently. It is important to keep the credentials used for a security freeze in a safe place so that they can be accessed when you need to unfreeze your credit.
Finally, while a security freeze is not a foolproof way to prevent identity theft, you can rest a little easier knowing that you have made it much more difficult for fraudulent credit to be established under your name.
Add two-factor authentication with your wireless provider – Two-factor authentication via text message has been revolutionary for account security. However, many people have created hundreds of accounts over time that use their phone numbers for security purposes, which presents an opportunity for cybercriminals.
For example, a port-out scam (a.k.a. SIM swapping) is where an account with a wireless service provider is taken over by a nefarious third party who then uses your personal information to port your phone number to another mobile device. The cybercriminal can then use that device to reset the passwords on your most sensitive online accounts. There have been widely publicized incidences of millions of dollars being stolen using this method. [Source: https://www.engadget.com/2018-08-15-att-224-million-lawsuit-cryptocurrency-theft.html/]
How do you stop this? All three major wireless service providers offer the ability to add a verbal password to a mobile account. Even if a cybercriminal had all your personal information, that person would likely not have the additional verbal password needed to finalize the port-out of your phone number. Call your wireless service provider and ask what options they offer to protect against this scenario.
Google yourself – Digital data brokers operate their businesses by buying and selling the personal information of millions of people. You might be surprised to find that for as little as $1 anyone can access your home address, date of birth, the make and model of your car, the names of your spouse and children, net worth, health status, current employer, and other personally identifiable pieces of information about you and your loved ones. Depending upon how motivated a would-be hacker is, enough information can be found for identity theft to occur.
Reputation management companies have developed systematic methods of submitting take-down requests to the hundreds of digital data brokers that are in business today. A take-down request is a formal submission for the information being displayed online about you and your family to be removed. In instances where that information cannot be removed, reputation management companies can employ reverse search engine optimization techniques that can suppress the content and relegate it back as many pages as possible on Google and other search providers. BlackCloak, an offering of Cresset Concierge, has data broker information removal services as part of its suite of digital solutions.
Use a privacy screen – Smartphones today offer facial unlock features to let us quickly gain entry. However, this has become difficult during a pandemic as many people are wearing face masks. As a result, when in a public setting, we now have to manually enter our passcodes every time we want to access our devices. With the average person checking a smartphone dozens of times per day, that provides an opportunity for bad actors lurking nearby.
A privacy screen protector limits the field of view on average to 30 degrees. That means it is almost impossible for someone next to you to see what is occurring on your screen without you being aware. By adding a privacy screen protector to your smartphone, you can help protect your information when you are entering your passcode, a password, sending a text, or doing anything potentially sensitive while out in public.
Enhance your digital home security – The weakest point in a home is not the windows or doors, but the router from your internet service provider. With each internet-connected device added in your home comes more security and privacy risks. The biggest challenge is making sure the network that all those devices are running on is secure. Take the time to change the username and password that came with your router if you have not done so already, and regularly check for firmware updates. There are also applications available that can monitor devices that are connected to your network. This can detect if a breach has occurred, and if action should be taken.
While online and offline privacy and personal information intrusions are plentiful and constantly evolving, there are thankfully ways to mitigate the risks. By taking reasonable steps to improve your security posture, you can help protect you and your family, and thus protect your assets.