How to stay in control of your online data

Data lock
(Source: Stockfresh)

Revealing the security practices you should use online to avoid your personal details being stolen

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10 May 2019 | 0

There are so many scams around these days, not to mention companies selling personal information without user knowledge, that it can feel as if it is impossible to have any kind of control over who can see and have your data online.

But it is possible, and we will outline a few simple ways to lock down your privacy settings, manage your passwords and keep your finances safe.

How to spot a scam e-mail
Your inbox is probably littered with a lot of unwanted e-mail, but it is crucial to know your spam from a scam.

Scammers have become a lot better at putting together a convincing e-mail that will usually play on your fears to trick you into handing over information such as account passwords and even credit card numbers or bank details.

You might see e-mails which say one of your accounts has been suspended or terminated because of suspicious or fraudulent activity. There is usually a link to click so you can log in and ‘resolve the issue’. But that link probably goes to a fake website that looks like the real deal. If you type in your username and password, you are handing them straight to the scammer and if you use the same details for other websites then you’ve just compromised your security even more.

If in doubt, never click a link in an email. Instead type the company’s known, trusted website address directly into a Web browser (or use Google to find it) and log in to your account that way.

No reputable company will e-mail you out of the blue and ask that you hand over your password or any financial details.

And if you get e-mails with unbelievable offers for iPads, holidays or anything else, be suspicious if you do not know the company behind it. Do not hand over any details or pay for anything until you are certain that it is genuine.

Do not provide extra details
When signing up for a new account online, only fill out the fields which are required. There is no need to enter your address, phone number or any other personal details (even your middle name) if the site does not force you to.

Obviously, if you are ordering products you will have to provide a delivery address, but if you are able to, get items delivered to a work address.

Plus, instead of handing over your bank details, it is worth setting up a PayPal account and using that wherever possible because the merchant then never sees your bank account or debit card number. If you do not want to use PayPal, then try Apple Pay or Google Pay.

If you cannot use those, why not set up a bank account specifically for online shopping and only keep a small amount of money in it. That way, if those details are ever compromised in a hack and fall into the wrong hands, any losses will be very limited.

Have multiple email addresses
E-mail accounts are free, so it is a good idea to set one up for different online activities, such as shopping, social media, forums etc.

That way, you can limit the amount of unwanted e-mail you have to see as there should not be any need to regularly check those accounts for e-mail and it keeps your main email account much freer of spam.

It also means you are not forced to use the same email address for all your online accounts, which is a security risk.

Use a password manager
The reason most people use the same password for multiple accounts is because it is hard to remember scores of different ones. A password manager solves this by securely storing logins for accounts behind one main username and password. So all you have to remember is a single password.

Better still, good password managers will generate strong passwords and can even update your existing weak passwords for you in some cases. And they will automatically enter the login details for a website or app so you do not have to look them up.

Use a VPN
A VPN ensures the connection between your device and the internet is encrypted. It is crucial you use a VPN on public, open Wi-Fi as otherwise you are leaving your data exposed to anyone who wants to snoop.

A single VPN account can usually be used on several devices so you can protect your family’s phones and laptops for around the price of a pint of beer per month.

Check your privacy settings
If you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media sites, then go into your settings and have a look at the privacy options. Unless you changed them, they will be set to the defaults which may not give you the privacy you want.

Facebook is the main one to check, as Twitter, Instagram and others are public, so whatever you post is visible to everyone. Facebook lets you lock down your account so only your friends can see what you post, and you can even set up different groups of friends and exclude specific people when you post.

If you have kids under 13, try not to allow them to use social apps which allow anyone and everyone to see what they post. Some apps let you set it to a private account, so only approved followers or friends can see the posts.

Check if your data is compromised
Since there have been many hacks of high-profile companies and websites, you should check to see whether any of your data was compromised. Head to Have I been pwned? and type in your email addresses that you use for online accounts.

If it was included in any of the breaches, they will be listed. Although it may be a little late to stop your data being stolen, you can at least change the password associated with any hacked account to prevent any further access to that account.

There is no magic bullet when it comes to keeping your data secure online. But use these tips and you will stand a far better chance of staying in control of who can see it.

IDG News Service

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