Hacking is an indiscriminate culprit, notorious for affecting droves of unsuspecting victims regardless of their socioeconomic status. The infamous Equifax hack of 2017 exposed as many as 143 million social security and driver's license numbers (NY Times article). Such sensitive data is enough to leave one's entire financial standing in ruins. The best way to combat such catastrophic attacks is to implement preventative measures. Technology is instrumental in such protective procedures. Whether you're tech savvy or a tech novice, these simple steps can reduce the likelihood of identity theft and fraud.


Sort out all your digital goods. This includes usernames, passwords, online accounts, apps and files. Decluttering digital assets involves knowing what you have and getting rid of all that's unnecessary. Do you have multiple social media accounts or apps that you no longer use? Is your phone littered with dozens of unused apps? Closing inactive accounts can prevent your personal information from being readily available in multiple places. Check with a financial advisor about best practices when managing multiple bank and retirement accounts. Make it a habit to do a regular inventory check on all online assets.


Have a written copy of all usernames and passwords on a notebook or piece of paper. Also include serial numbers or key codes for applications. This hardcopy should be kept in a secure place at all times. Having your passwords in your notes app may seem convenient at first but it can lead to a multitude of issues. What if you get locked out of your phone? If your phone is stolen without a passcode, someone can easily acquire all your login information. If the notes app is synced in the iCloud,  your account information is vulnerable to corporate hacks.

Password management apps are growing in popularity. These are a great option for managing multiple logins. Whichever app you choose, make sure it has been vetted by tech authorities like CNET or The Wirecutter. Don't allow yourself to be completely dependent on the app. Have a copy of your passwords in your long-term memory, along with the previously suggested hardcopy. One great tip is to manually log into all accounts at least once a month. It's a great way to regularly monitor your data for discrepancies while also training your brain to continuously remember your passwords.

Another important aspect of password management is the quality of the password itself. Make sure your passwords are long enough and unique. Passwords like "1234" or the word "password" are an absolute no-no. Once you've created sufficiently complex passwords, make sure you change them at least once a year. Companies that have large amounts of sensitive data require employees to change their passwords every three months. Once or twice a year should suffice for most of us.

Passwords should be treated like physical house keys. They are your first line of defense against thieves and scammers. The more accounts you have, the more vigilant you need to be when managing these precious keys.


You can supplement passwords with two-factor authentication. This feature adds an additional layer of security. A code is sent to you via text or email which must be entered during each login. Email services like Gmail and Yahoo Mail implement the use of an app to verify a user's identity. The app can either generate a code for you to enter during the login process or simply ask you to to confirm a request to sign in with a tap. The additional step prevents hackers who have your password from getting in.

Google is offering USB or lightning connection keys as an additional security measure. The Titan Security Key must be inserted into the computer or phone you are logging into. This comes in a bundle that also includes a wireless bluetooth enabled key. These keys serve as physical versions of a password which need to be present during each instance that a user logs into their Google account.

Enabling your computer's firewall is another effective tool in the battle against data breaches. The feature blocks outside connection attempts. In addition to this, you can also enable encryption which scrambles your data, making it undecipherable to outsiders. Turning off bluetooth and wifi on mobile devices keeps them on lockdown. This blocks criminals who are trying to access your data from making wireless transfers or connections.

The endgame to every heist is to gain more buying power. Hackers sell private information to generate revenue. They can also go after people's financial assents and credit line, enabling them to make extravagant purchases. Victims end up with inaccurate credit reports and steep declines in their FICO scores. A more extreme measure to protect yourself from data thieves is by freezing all your credit reports. Calling the three main credit reporting agencies to ask for a freeze on your reports is an effective way to prevent hackers from permanently ruining your credit and future buying power.

Think of each of your gadgets and digital assets as windows into a virtual house that holds your precious personal data. Hackers and scammers will do everything they can in order to successfully break in and steal your private information. Protect yourself by enforcing these tactics because oftentimes, online data can be worth more than tangible belongings.

Photos by: Victoria Heath, Edgar

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