4 Ways to Protect Your Identity in Your Own Home

login and password prompt

A reader recently asked:

“I work from home and spend a lot of time online. I use wifi provided by the phone company. I access my bank and credit card accounts online all the time, in addition to email, social networking sites and miscellaneous websites. What should I do to protect myself, my data and my identity?”

This is a great question that applies to millions of consumers nationwide. Identity theft happens in an instant, and the unfortunate fact is that sometimes the thief is not a random stranger. A trusted housekeeper, handyman or even friend or family member can become a perpetrator when presented with an opportunity. Save yourself a mountain of trouble and protect your identity by eliminating those opportunities to the extent possible. Here are four ways to protect your identity in your own home.

1. Run reputable antivirus software with automatic updates enabled

Your virus scanner is only as good as its latest update. Be sure automatic updates are turned on, and make sure your operating software is up to date. Updates should occur nightly.

2. Use WPA 2 encryption

Old encryption technology like WEP and WPA are vulnerable to hackers. If you use a wireless network, be sure you’re using WPA 2 encryption. If you’re not sure what encryption your router uses, log in and find the security section. If you don’t see the WPA 2 encryption option, you can get a new router that has it for about $30.

3. Secure or shred sensitive documents

All personal information in your home should be inaccessible. Checkbooks, account statements, wallets and purses should be secured in a place that is inaccessible to other people in your home. Don’t leave daily mail on a counter. Put it in a drawer until you are ready to look at it. Don’t put outgoing mail in an unsecured mailbox at your home. Any paperwork that shows private information, including your name and address, should be shredded and not simply placed in the trash or recycle bin. Shred all receipts. Shred junk mail, or at least the portion that shows your name and/or address.

4. Use complex passwords

All devices should be password-protected. Passwords should be random and unpredictable, and should include upper-and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Never use common strings of numbers like 1234, 9876 or 0000. Don’t use your street address, birth-date, child’s name, birth year or other easily guessed word or phrase that is easily guessed by a focused hacker. Use 2-step authentication on bank and credit card websites when you log in.

To manage complex passwords, use a password manager like 1Password or LastPass. Apple and Chrome also offer password management applications. Norton and McAfee both offer password managers as part of their paid packages. Password managers remember your passwords and help you log in when you need to. SecureSafe.com is an online password safe that offers free accounts for safely storing up to 50 passwords per account. SecureSafe helps you log in by copying your password to the clipboard when you click to a site from within your account, allowing you to simply paste it into the password field.

Quick Tip: As an added identity theft protection measure, Credit Sesame offers free credit monitoring with real-time alerts when information in your credit report changes. These alerts will notify you of any unusual or suspicious activity in your credit report, which is often one of the first signs of identity theft.  Visit CreditSesame.com to get your free credit score with monthly updates and free credit monitoring today!

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Published April 1, 2014 Updated: April 15, 2016
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