8 simple steps to secure your digital data

Shelly Gigante

By Shelly Gigante
Shelly Gigante specializes in personal finance issues. Her work has appeared in a variety of publications and news websites.
Posted on Oct 15, 2019

Cybercrime is on the rise, with scammers and hackers getting ever more creative at setting online traps to steal your money and identity.

There were nearly 14.4 million victims of identity fraud in 2018 alone, according to Javelin Strategy & Research. In the prior year, it found, criminals who engaged in identity fraud schemes stole nearly $17 billion, while 30 percent of U.S. consumers were exposed to a data breach.1

Armed with personally identifiable information, criminals can withdraw funds from your financial accounts, file a tax return to collect your refund, open a credit card in your name and rack up charges, and ding your credit by opening a new checking account and writing bad checks.

Staying offline doesn’t help. Consumer Reports notes that criminals can purchase basic information about consumers on the dark web, including their name, address, phone number, birthdate, and even Social Security number. It’s often enough to initiate online access to an existing banking or investment account.2

But there are steps that consumers can take to help keep their digital data secure. Here’s how:

  • Register for free online banking and mobile apps to monitor your checking and credit accounts daily, Consumer Reports suggests.And use two-factor authentication (such as your thumbprint to access an online app or a one-time code texted to your phone) to add an extra layer of protection.
  • Log in regularly to your online accounts It’s not enough to ditch paper documents and “go green.” You must also secure your account with a unique password and select “challenge” clues, where possible, to recover forgotten usernames and passwords. Consumer advocates recommend against using automatic login features.
  • Request a free credit report each year from the three major credit reporting bureaus—Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
  • Protect your online transactions using encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. Not sure if your browser is secure? The Federal Trade Commission urges consumers to look for the “lock” icon on the status bar of their browser, which indicates the personal and financial information they send is secure.4
  • Never share your passwords or Social Security number with anyone who does not need to know it. If someone asks you to share your Social Security number, the FTC suggests you to ask why they need it, how it will be used, how they will protect it, and what happens if you don’t share the number.
  • Avoid phishing emails by not opening files, clicking links, or downloading programs sent by strangers, the FTC urges. It could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that can capture your passwords.
  • Safely dispose of digitized personal information before you trash your computer or give it away, by deleting all personal information stored on the hard drive.
  • Rein in your social networking posts the FTC suggests, which can give cybercriminals details they can use to answer “challenge” questions on your accounts and gain access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people.

For consumers who seek to thwart cybercriminals, the best defense is a good offense. Secure your accounts with adequate passwords, keep your personal information private, and monitor your online accounts regularly to keep your assets and identity safe.

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Javelin Strategy & Research, “2018 Identity Fraud: Fraud Enters a New Complexity,” March. 6, 2019.

Consumer Reports, ”To Prevent Identity Theft, Set Up Web Access for Banking, Phone & Other Accounts,” Sept. 18, 2018.

Consumer Reports, “Don’t get taken guarding your ID: Do-it-yourself safeguards are just as effective as paid services,” January 2013.

Federal Trade Commission, “How to Keep Your Personal Information Secure,” July 2012.

The information provided is not written or intended as specific tax or legal advice. MassMutual and its subsidiaries, employees, and representatives are not authorized to give tax or legal advice. You are encouraged to seek advice from your own tax or legal counsel. Opinions expressed by those interviewed are their own and do not necessarily represent the views of MassMutual.