Over the past year alone, there have been roughly 12.6 million reported victims of identity theft. To put it into perspective, that’s a whopping one victim every three seconds.  No matter how safe you think you are being online, chances are you’re making at least a few mistakes that compromise the integrity of your personal information.

Cyber threats and crimes are increasing much faster than we can implement preventive measures against them. For every threat we manage to fend off, 10 more are on their way to steal your most private data and information. They can be for purposes as innocent as trolling (when the person just wants to mess around with your Facebook/Twitter/Instagram profiles and post embarrassing things about you) or something much more sinister like siphoning money from your very own personal savings account and/or committing credit fraud under your name. Credit fraud is a crime punishable by prison sentence in the eyes of the law so it’s definitely not something you want to be associated with in any way, especially if it’s just your name being used!

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Identity theft can happen through means as simple as when you log in to your Facebook. Many unwitting and unsuspecting victims had had their entire lives torn apart by hackers who use their face, name and personal identity to commit all kinds of cyber crimes. Don’t be a victim! Protect yourself from these hackers by practising these simple steps!

1. Always Check Website Links

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Before logging in to any important websites (like banking websites) always, always, check once, twice, three times, that the links are legit. Most secure site have a “https://…” at the front of their url, which is a very safe and reliable sign that you’re at the right place. If it doesn’t some with the “s”, namely only “http://…”, it doesn’t mean it’s a fake or compromised site. Just make sure the url address is as you typed in and not something shady that’s completely unrelated to the site whatsoever. Look above for example.

Keying in your vital information like usernames and passwords to your bank or credit card accounts to fake site like these allows the hacker to steal that data by means of phishing, with which they now have full access to all those accounts.

2. Secure Your Home Internet Router With WPA/WPA2 Encryption

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Most routers come either completely open (which means there’s zero security against hacking) or with a WEP (Wired Equivalence Privacy) encryption. The WEP, while it does its job, is still highly deprecated and insecure. WPA (WiFi Protected Access) and WPA2 (a better version of WPA) is stronger and prevents people from stealing your bandwidth and using your line. It also prevents people from doing a “MAN IN THE MIDDLE ATTACK” whereby they place themselves between your laptop/pc/phone and your router so whatever information that goes to the router goes through them as well, such as account username and passwords, credit card numbers and their security codes. To set up the new encryption, just contact your Internet Service Provider and request for it to be done.

3. Stay Away from Public WiFi Hotspots

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It is second nature to most of us to ask for the WiFi password to a public WiFi hotspot at places Starbucks or at the airport. Little do we know that it is at places exactly like these that render us most vulnerable to unwanted hacking and Internet security compromise. To minimize your risk of getting hacked or have your personal information stolen, try to log on to public Wifi as little as possible. Whenever you can, use your own 3G data. For same reasons as described above in no.2, you don’t know who is lurking on the line ready to steal any information they desire.

4. Watch Out for Pop-ups

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We’ve all heard of this warning before. Don’t click on obviously con-job pop-ups that tell you you’ve won an iPad or the weekly jackpot of RM1million. These days, however, hackers are getting more refined with their fake pop-ups. They disguise them as notifications to update important plugins or drives that look completely legit. If a pop-up asks you to install, for example, Adobe Flash Player when it is already installed (one way to tell that you already have it is if you’re able to visit sites with flash) this might be a fake script passed by someone who wants to gain access to your device. You can always check if your Flash Player is indeed working by ignoring the pop-up and reloading the website again. Alternatively,  just visit YouTube and try to play a video; if it works, the pop-up was most likely fake. In general, just ignore most pop-ups unless something is unable to run explicitly.

5. Don’t Use the Same Password Twice

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Always vary the passwords you use for different sites and accounts. In other words, don’t use the same passwords for your Facebook as you would you Twitter, or your Instagram, or your e-mail. If you did, once a hacker gets hold of your password, all these accounts will be compromised simultaneously. Mix up your passwords with different lower- and upper-cases too to make the probability of someone guessing it harder. For extra measure, change your passwords every one or two months so as to keep things fresh. In all cases, NEVER write down your passwords anywhere on little notes and slips of paper as reminder to yourself. You never know who might come across them.

The Internet is becoming an increasingly dangerous place. Take all the effort you can to protect yourself and your life from cyber predators lurking behind every pop-up and illegitimate site.

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