How can I avoid being taken advantage of?

Every single day we seem to have a story about some new security breach, aggressive malware, or scam. Jack has a very good question about this mess:

“Other than change my email password, use a VPN and Lifelock, what can an ordinary person do to avoid being taken advantage of?”


Jack is off to a great start. If you learn of a breach that might involve your accounts in any way, changing all of your passwords is a great idea. Longer passwords are always better. These days, the thinking is to use a phrase several words long if the account permits it.  But no password is uncrackable.  For the most part, it’s not some nosy friend trying to get into your account, but someone running a computer program that can guess combinations all day long. Enabling 2-factor authentication. That means that there’s an additional step beside just typing in a password, sometimes it’s entering a code sent to you via text or to another email account. You can usually set it to only be activated if you log in from a new device or to only require confirmation every two weeks. This extra step can sometimes be enough to make hackers say it’s just not worth it.  And secure everything you can with a password or PIN. That includes your network, the device itself, and even important files.


Making sure your operating system has the latest security updates and that you have the necessary security programs in place is also a must. Keep physical security in mind as well. Don’t just leave your phone, tablet, or PC unattended.

A virtual private network is also a great idea.  As far as identity theft insurance, it brings up the really difficult part about securing your information. Most breaches aren’t because of anything a customer has done. ID theft protection firm Lifelock was ordered to pay a $100 million dollar settlement with consumers for breaching a court order that required them to establish and maintain a comprehensive information security program to protect users’ sensitive personal information including their social security, credit card, and bank account numbers.  Credit monitoring company Equifax, who also offers ID theft insurance, recently had a massive data breach that exposed the info of nearly 150 million people. The government has experienced multiple massive breaches where sensitive information was exposed.  So what can you do about that?  Immediately, not a whole lot, except stay vigilant.

And that’s really the key. You can alarm every door and window in your house, but you still have to keep an eye out for suspicious activity on your property. It’s the very same thing with your accounts. Watch out for suspicious emails. Don’t just click on links without thinking about what they lead to. Monitor your bank account and credit accounts frequently. Activate two-factor authentication on any account that offers it. It’s the equivalent of having a deadbolt along with your door lock.

I know everyone would prefer an easy way where you turn on a program or pay for a service and your safe. But in a world were millions of individuals and even other countries are trying to get to your data, that’s just not enough.


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