Connecting the Dots–How Your Digital Life Affects Identity Theft and Financial Loss

You’re on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter. You use Gmail, Yahoo! and bank online. You might buy stuff on sites like Amazon and occasionally make purchases from eBay. Sometimes you apply for a loan online and maybe open up a credit card account too. This is all commonplace in today’s digital world.

So how does all this lead to identity theft and financial loss?

With the convenience of the Internet and all the digital devices available to use today—laptops, smartphones, and tablets—we unknowingly provide a lot of information online that could expose us to identity theft. Access to your personal information is what gives hackers the power to tap into your accounts and steal your money or your identity.

Here are some of the ways that hackers use our information against us:

Social media: These sites continue to grow in popularity and you may be putting more information on these sites than you should. Even though you may assume that only people in your personal network can access this information, that’s not always the case.

Email: It’s been said that if you own a person’s email, you own the person. This means that once your email account is hacked, pretty much your entire digital life is up for grabs. So even if you’ve done your due diligence to have all your passwords be different, if your email is hacked and it is associated with your other online accounts, the hacker could simply use a reset password and get access to all your other accounts.

Online shopping: This is another activity where you need to be cautious since hackers can potentially steal your information from an unsecured or phony site. If you’re on a phony site, you are giving your information directly to the hacker or you could be on a site that is automatically downloading malware to your device that could do things like track every site you visit and everything you type on your keyboard and send that to a hacker.

Wireless networking—Even if you are being cautious with our online activities, hackers can still grab your information if you aren’t smart when using Wi-Fi connections. That’s why when you’re using those free hotspot connections in cafes or airports, it’s important for you not to access your banking or personal sites as the transmission of data is not secure.

There are many ways to skin a cat, as they say (a rather morbid expression), but having your identity stolen and losing money is unfortunately too easy when your information is spread so thin. So it’s not enough to just sit back and hope you aren’t hacked. The fact is you need to up your security intelligence and invest in additional layers of security.

All of these scams prey on your trust and on your personal information, so follow these basic steps to protect yourself:

Click with caution: Be careful when clicking on links in emails, texts, social media posts, and instant messages, especially if they are from people you don’t know.

Be careful what you share: Think about what you post online—is that thing you so badly you want to share something you’re ok with your grandmother or an employer seeing? If not, then don’t post it. In fact, you should consider anything posted on the Internet as something written in permanent pen, not pencil—as in, it’s there forever.

Use common sense: Follow the old caveats about not clicking on links in emails, texts, social media posts, and instant messages from people you don’t know, and always exercise caution when it comes to sharing any sensitive information.

Educate yourself: Keep up to date about the latest scams and tricks hackers use to grab your information so you can avoid potential attacks.

Use comprehensive protection: Because there are a variety of ways in which hackers can access your information, you need to make sure that you employ a comprehensive security solution like McAfee LiveSafe™ service that protects all your devices, your identity and your data.

Robert Siciliano is an Online Security Expert to McAfee. He is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Mobile was Hacked!  (Disclosures)