Data Security and Your Happiness

Findings from the 2014 Unisys study show that identity theft is the number two fear that Americans have, topped only by fraudulent credit card usage. Here are five important steps you can take to improve your data security and, thus, your happiness and peace of mind.

Make haste — but don’t be hasty

Change your passwords now, unless you’ve changed them in the past 90 days. The older your passwords are, the easier it is for hackers to compromise your personal information. Make sure that each password is unique, and don’t share passwords among different accounts. While your password should be complex, your password should also be at least eight characters in length, including unique symbol and number combinations. Avoid making passwords that are of names and common words, and consider using unusual abbreviations or phrases. Once your passwords are created, store them safely, such as via storage encryption.

Institute multiple email accounts

Scams and malicious links are especially common among social and marketing-related email communications and websites. To help protect your information, use one email address for social media, contests, e-newsletters, coupons, sales promotions, etc. Designate another email address for accounts attributed to your insurance, financial assets, credit cards, and bills (utility, Internet, and phone bills). You may even consider having a third account for personal communications.

Designating an “essential email” address for critical entities will help you more easily recognize signs of phishing emails and Internet scams. Of course, even with multiple email addresses in place, you should remain cautious of scams, spam and malware links.

Explore more — click less

Investigate companies you do business with both online and off. Just as kids are warned not to talk to strangers, you should take the same stance with unfamiliar links and websites. Don’t click or visit without verifying the legitimacy of the companies behind the online presence. This includes links and sites you receive from family, friends and coworkers as they may not have done their due diligence. Eighteen percent of social network users do not check the security of links before sharing them, according to a Norton anti-virus company study. Start by looking up companies and websites via the Better Business Bureau.

Buy online with confidence

Convenience, availability and cost make online shopping desirable. According to ecommerce company Invesp, 195 million Americans made online purchases in 2014 — a number that grows 10 percent each year. Unfortunately, the impact of cybercrime is also staggering. In a cybercrime report by Norton, in one year, 71 million adult Americans experienced cybercrime — costing the victims a total of more than $20 billion.

Before you shop, equip your computer or other devices with firewalls, anti-spyware and anti-virus software. Also, be sure to keep your system updated with the latest security patches. When you do make purchases, make sure sites that ask for personal information and payment data are encrypted, indicated by the lock icon and HTTPS preceding the Web address. For added protection, turn your computer off when you’re not using it so you are not constantly connected to the Internet, leaving the door open around the clock for hackers.

Focus on the positive

Taking charge of your personal data security is a positive step that will give you daily peace of mind. Because identity theft is a high-risk crime that impacts consumers every two seconds (according to Javelin Strategy and Research), part of the job is taking the initiative to protect yourself. According to author and Ph.D David Niven, a proactive outlook in all aspects of life will result in a happier life altogether.

With fraud protection services at the ready, you further your proactive approach so you have more time for other things that make you happy. Feel confident in knowing that your identity and personal information is safe so that you can focus on the important things in life.