A smartphone has the processing power and functionality to be a camera, video camera, voice recorder, ebook reader, GPS, music player, global address book, and much, much more. This much information would have required a trailer load of equipment back in the day. Digitizing gives us a world of information in a back pocket.
However, digitization has also resulted in increased risks from scammers and hackers. We must keep our data safe to benefit from technological advances with peace of mind.
The Federal Trade Commission received over 2 million consumer fraud reports in 2020. The main kinds of fraud reported were imposter scams, online shopping scams, fake internet services, bogus prizes and lotteries, and fraudulent telephone and mobile services.
Unfortunately, the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in increased scams as predators attempt to prey on the vulnerable and ill-informed. The best way to protect yourself in the digital era is to be aware of the risks. So, here are our top tips on how to stay safe in the digital age.
Be Aware of Spam
Spam refers to emails people send indiscriminately and in bulk, usually to request a purchase or financial transfer. While not all spam emails are malicious, many are. It’s worth being able to spot them and deal with them accordingly.
Spam emails typically contain misspellings and grammar errors. No professional company lets their content go out without checking simple spelling and grammar mistakes.
You should also look out for fake business names. For example, you might receive an email from “thefacebook” or “Miccrosoft” in an attempt to convince you that it’s an official email.
Hover over any links to see the real URL to which you will be redirected. If it looks suspicious – for example, if the URL is a TinyURL, is otherwise hidden, or does not contain an official website URL – stay clear. If you are suspicious about an email, do not click any links.
If you think an email is spam, report it as spam via your email provider. This will protect you and others from receiving similar communications.
A phishing attempt is when an individual or business attempts to gain confidential, personally-identifying information to gain unauthorized access to an account to commit fraud. They may wish to make unauthorized transactions using your credit card or commit other crimes using your details.
Professional companies do not ask for personally identifying information via messaging. Another way to spot phishing attempts is to remember that they often feature time limits and urgency. If the sender is pressurizing you to act fast, be wary. If you spot spelling and grammar mistakes, too, you are also well-advised not to make contact.
If you are unsure whether the person who has contacted you is genuine, use Nuwber to verify their details. Nuwber has a massive database of US citizens. You can use this to confirm a sender’s address, occupation, date of birth, and other salient details that can put your mind at rest. With the ability to double-check the information someone gives you, you can better decide how to proceed.
Use Virus/Firewall Software
A reputable virus checker and/or firewall, such as McAfee Total Protection or Microsoft’s Windows Defender, is your first line of defense to prevent malware and attacks on your device. This software will block unwanted access, prevent data from leaving your machine without your knowledge, and alert you to anything that looks suspicious. Along with your awareness, this is essential to keep you and your loved ones safe when so much of our lives is digitized.
Update Your Software
Software developers are constantly updating their apps to improve their services for consumers and take care of security vulnerabilities. The most common software upgrades are related to security. To protect your device and your data, therefore, make sure that you install all upgrades for your operating system and other software you use. This holds for all your software, not only your virus checker and firewall.
Use (Strong) Passwords
One of the best ways to protect your data in the digital age is to use strong passwords. All accounts online are password-protected, but you should also consider password-protecting your computer itself to prevent unauthorized access.
Using strong passwords may seem a pain but is incredibly important. Using common passwords like “password” or “123456” leaves you open to exploitation from criminals. If you think that you are likely to pass beneath a criminal’s radar, note that criminals target small businesses and individuals because they tend to have poorer security than big businesses and nonetheless provide access to higher profile contacts and business partners.
What makes a strong password? Many online services require at least one capital letter, a number, and a symbol to throw potential hackers off the scent. Longer passwords tend to be harder to crack than short passwords.
To remember a long password, consider using an entire sentence that is familiar to you. Alternatively, you could take a phrase or sentence that you know well and use the initial letters of each word to formulate your password. This would result in a “nonsense” word that is nonetheless easy for you to remember.
Do Not Leave Your Computer Unattended
Not all thefts are the result of cyberattacks. While many security professionals focus on digital security, you can also prevent data theft with physical security. If you use a laptop or smartphone, do not leave these lying around where unauthorized users could access them. With a desktop computer, make sure to turn the computer off or log out before you go and set it up to require a password.
We are increasingly reliant on the internet for shopping, information, and recreation. Data security is more important than ever. Acquiring these good habits will help keep you and your information safe. They will also protect your family and your loved ones since our social and familial connections tend to be reflected by the contents of our devices. With awareness, attention, and a little help from technology, we can enjoy the benefits of the digital age with peace of mind.