Having your identity stolen by a cyber-criminal might sound like the stuff of science fiction, but it is a very real risk for any connected South African. People have become comfortable with doing virtually anything online, but few spare a thought to what would happen if their digital identity gets compromised.
Despite the moral objections that exist, the recent Ashley Madison hack has put the spotlight on the need to protect personal data. But, the sad reality is that even this has not had a significant effect with many people still not taking the necessary precautions. When it comes to securing your personal data in a digital world, you can never be too careful.
Identity theft goes hand-in-hand with phishing scams. While most email clients have spam filters built-in, this does not mean you are completely protected against fraudulent emails. People need to be cognisant that most reputable companies will not request personal identifiable information or account details via email. This includes your bank, health care provider, and even online shopping sites. As a result, never open attachments in these emails and do not click on any links embedded in the message. This is a sure-fire way you will fall prey to identity theft.
With this in mind, it pays to be aware of the popular scams doing the rounds. Sure, we can joke about that inheritance you are supposed to be getting from an African royal family member, but that is just the tip of the iceberg. If you are ever unsure about an email, contact the institution from where it claims to come from. Most South African financial institutions and even mobile operators have scam lines designed to keep you informed.
Another vital aspect of protecting your online identity is using strong passwords. These are not the names of your pets or your date of birth. In fact, it is advisable to avoid using any word that can be found in a dictionary. You should create a unique password for each site you have a login for that, ideally, and include long combinations of letters, numerals, and non-alphanumeric symbols. It is also important to change your passwords often.
Building on from this, never store your financial data on any of the sites you use. There is no disputing the convenience of buying with the click of a button and not completing the same credit card forms every time. But it is really worth the extra minute it takes to fill in the form and not risk compromising your financial data.
Despite taking all these measures, no person can be completely vigilant all the time across all devices. For this reason, it is always a good idea to have some form of cyber-security solution installed. Ideally, such a solution would need to work across devices and cater for everything from anti-virus protection to Internet security and email safety. Some might even have a Privacy Cleaner or similar data scrubbing tool that effectively wipes your personal data from any device.