Online privacy is a hot topic in today’s world—and it’s for good reason. Most of us rely on the web to do almost everything. We hop on the computer to pay rent, talk to our friends, relax after a long day, and manage our work emails. It’s almost impossible to avoid full immersion on the web… but how can you keep yourself safe while you’re online?
There are a lot of steps that Internet users can take to improve their online privacy. Some of them are simple—changing passwords, getting creative with second email addresses, and holding personal information close to your belt can all help. Those who want to delve further into their online safety can find plenty of resources and tips from the federal government and industry experts.
Spotting a Scam or Event That Could Compromise Your Online Privacy
You’ve probably heard people say that the first step to solving a problem is admitting you have one. Think of scammers the same way. The first way to avoid a scammer is to detect one. Many scams regularly crop, taking on the same form. A lot of scams and schemes have their own names.
Understanding that these exist (and knowing how to identify the hallmarks of them) could serve you well in the future:
- Phishing scams | Phishing scams involve scammers who use text messages or emails to communicate with their victims. They trick people into sharing personal information like passwords and Social Security numbers. This often grants them access to a wealth of personal information. Scammers can enter email accounts, bank accounts, and a range of other personal databases
- Identity theft | Identity theft may begin in one of several ways. Sometimes, innocent victims lose their personal information to data breaches or other third-party scenarios. Some scammers use phishing scams to achieve the eventual goal of identity theft. No matter how a scammer attempts to go about it, identity theft allows them almost unparalleled access to your personal information
- Data breaches | Data breaches expose victims’ personal information. Targets oftentimes include large corporations (like Target) or financial entities (like Equifax).
- Email hacks | Email hackers gain access to their victims’ email accounts and use them to send out “random” links or requests for cash. Most victims don’t even realize that this has happened until somebody who receives one of these emails asks about it. You can also check your Sent Messages folder to see if there are messages that you didn’t send. Some email hackers cause social media accounts to make posts or end up blocking access to them
- Romance scams | Romance scammers tend to target people who are especially vulnerable to emotional manipulation. Those who are in abusive or difficult situations, who are lonely or struggling with mental health, who may have suffered the loss of a spouse or something similar, can all be tricked into sharing money and personal data. These scammers are especially popular on dating sites and apps, but can communicate through any means
Three Quick Tips to Improve Your Online Privacy
Check Your Social Media Privacy Settings
Most of us love social media—and with the advent of smartphones, a lot of people easily maintain a wealth of social media accounts on the go. That means that social media privacy settings are an especially easy place to start if you want to up your online privacy.
Social media networks hold onto a lot of information about you. Take a look using your favorite search engine and see how much of it is visible to anybody on the Internet who might want to see it. Privacy settings can easily be altered so that only your friends have access to your content.
Keep Your Personal and Primary Phone Number (and Email Address) Private
It’s good practice to create a disposable email address for use on social media, shopping, gaming, and any other sites. That means that a data breach won’t leak your passwords and your real email. You should use separate passwords for every account you have on every website—but, if you don’t, you’re in for even more trouble if a hacker also knows your primary email account.
Creating and maintaining a separate phone number isn’t always so easy. If possible, though, you should opt to do it. Phone and text scams are increasingly common, and your phone number is just one more piece of information a scammer could use to pose as you.
Use Secure Passwords
That means that your passwords should match certain standards and vary by account. Using the same password for every account you maintain is never a good idea. Nobody wants a hacker to get into their Twitter—but what if that hacker also had your bank account password?
Most experts recommend a handful of steps to strengthen your password:
- Use a long password (twelve characters or more)
- Use a mixture of characters (upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and symbols)
- Do not use common substitutions (i.e. 00 instead of OO in the word “door”)
- Do not rely on an easily-memorized keyboard path (like QWERTY)
Can an Attorney Help Me if My Online Privacy Is Compromised?
Yes! Lawyers assist their clients with a range of cases—many do involve compromises of online privacy. Whether you’re the victim of a scam or a data breach, a law firm that focuses on representation for cases involving online privacy can help you.
Remember: Find an empathetic and knowledgeable attorney. Victims of breaches of online privacy should feel empowered and emboldened as they work with their lawyers in the pursuit of justice. Never partner with an attorney that you don’t trust—and consider taking advantage of free initial consultations to find the lawyer that’s the right fit for your case.