Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Jamie Durham
IT Correspondent
9:14 AM 7th May 2021

Top Tips On How To Keep Your Identity Safe Online

In an age in which almost everything we do is online – from shopping, to banking, to conference calling – it’s no surprise that digital scams and cyberthreats are on the rise.

Here, Jamie Durham, founder of IT Support firm Systemwork, shares his top techie tips on how to surf the web safely and try to prevent hackers from getting a hold of your personal information.

Did you know that the FTC received 4.8 million reports of fraud in 2020 alone? There’s no hiding away from the fact that identity theft is a very real issue and that it has been on the rise for many years – in tandem with our evolving digital habits.

With this in mind, if we look at 2020 and 2021 in particular, it’s fair to say that online activity has soared more than ever before due to the pandemic.

Statistics gathered by UK Finance revealed that, since the start of the pandemic, the police recorded more than 73,000 successful ‘money grab’ incidents from bank accounts, and that there were almost three million successful cases of card fraud – totalling £574m – in the last year alone.

In fact, the government estimates the net cost of cybercrime in the UK is a staggering £27bn per year.
Keeping safe against cybercrime has never been more important, and that’s why it’s crucial to be vigilant and carry out due diligence before purchasing anything or inputting any personal details online. Here are some top tips, to help you keep your identity safe from cybercriminals…

Stick to legitimate websites

Now this may sound easier said than done, but there are some things you can do to help determine whether a site is legitimate or not. Firstly, does the URL bar show a small, green padlock with ‘https’? The ‘s’ stands for security, so if it has that, it’s a good start. You can click the padlock icon in the browser’s address bar and view the site’s security certificate.

Also, be sure to do some investigating – reviews and forums are great places to find out what experience other users have had, and to help ascertain whether a site is dodgy or genuine.

Be wary of links

Whether it’s on a website, email, or text message, be cautious when a person or company sends you a message with a link in it – especially one that’s asking you to input for personal details.

Banks, gas and electric suppliers, and other legitimate companies would never write to you and address you as ‘customer’ or ‘sir/madam’ – they would use your full name – nor would they ask you to change your payment details via text or email.

To help uncover whether a link is safe or not, you can hover your cursor over the text and the real URL should appear in a bar at the bottom of the screen. But some copycat sites can look unnervingly like the real thing, so it’s best to get in direct contact with the bank or company in question before taking any action.

Ensure you have security software installed on your devices

It’s no secret that cybercriminals’ hacking tactics are becoming ever-more sophisticated, and that’s why having trusted security software installed on your machine is crucial. But, be sure any antivirus tech is up to date, otherwise it might be providing little protection from attackers. While the ‘remind me later’ button may be oh-so tempting to click for the third time, schedule a regular window for updates to take place that suits you – ideally when you’re not using your device – and that way, they won’t cause any disruption.

Strengthen your passwords

With every online account requiring a password, you might be tempted to use the same one for everything – but please don’t, as this makes it easier for any cybercriminals to access all your digital accounts.

And whatever you do, try to avoid making them easy for hackers to guess – or there’s little point in setting a password in the first place. Each one needs to be unique and complex – comprising a mix of lower- and upper-case letters, numbers, and symbols – and ideally saved in an online password vault. We know that it’s a massive headache – and virtually impossible – to remember randomly generated, complicated passwords, so having a secure, encrypted tool that does it for you is a big help.

Enable two-factor authentication

To make it even tricker for hackers to access your devices, two-factor authentication – or 2FA – adds an extra layer of security to your online profiles, requiring a second credential.

This means that while you may have logged in with your username and password, to be able to access your account, you have to confirm the login via another device that you own. This commonly takes the form of a text message containing a login code that’s sent to your phone, or in some instances biometric verification.

Think before sharing

Before you enter or share any personal information with an online profile or person, take a minute to think whether it’s necessary.

Taking social media as an example, many people share locations, names, addresses, vehicle registration plates, phones numbers, and more – all of which can be used to impersonate someone on the internet. Therefore, think twice and be cautious before uploading any personally identifiable information.

Don’t forget about your phone

Many people think that it’s only on laptops or desktops where hackers can steal your personal information, but if you leave your smartphone hanging around, they can also tell cybercriminals a lot about you.

Make sure your mobile auto-locks after 30 seconds of not using it, and that the only way to gain access is via biometric credentials – such as fingerprints or facial recognition – and a strong passcode.

Use a secure internet connection

These days, it’s easy to gain access to your local coffee shop’s Wi-Fi – but a survey has uncovered that almost 70% of hacking incidents occur when connecting to these unsecured networks.

Therefore, before you press the ‘connect’ button, be mindful that anything you send whilst active on the network could be viewed and intercepted by cybercriminals using the same one.

Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) are the best way to browse the web when you’re out and about, as they encrypt all your data – making it useless to hackers.

In summary, staying safe online is important for everyone, and by exercising a little more caution before clicking links or sharing personal data, this can go a long way in helping you to keep your information safe from identity thieves.