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How to Protect Your Identity: Experts Say These 3 Easy Moves Keep You Safe + Secure

Plus, why you should clean out your inbox - and how to do it safely. 

The average person has more than 90 online accounts, including social media, online retailers, service providers and cloud storage, according to a recent survey. Between all those accounts, email and online public records, chances are your personal information is out there — waiting to be taken. Luckily, we’ve got the expert tips to keep your info safe from hackers. Keep reading for security pros’ 3 top moves for how to protect your identity.

1. Pinpoint forgotten accounts

Over the years, you’ve probably signed up for more online accounts that you can recall. “The problem is, the more places you have your personal information — including your full name, birthdate, address and contact info — the more opportunities hackers have to access it,” explains Harman Singh, director of cybersecurity at Cyphere. Plus, if those online sites wind up abandoned, that means no one is updating their security, which makes them even more vulnerable.

Luckily, figuring out where you might have these accounts is simple, Singh assures. “Start by doing a search of your email inbox for phrases like ‘new account,’ ‘account confirmation’ or ‘welcome.’ This will pull up emails you received — even ones that are years old — when you created a new account.” Then simply visit those sites and unsubscribe from them. Even if no one is tending those sites anymore, the deactivation process is typically automatic and will still function.

Even easier? Consider free services like Have I Been Pwned or JustDelete.me, which scan your online history and alert you to any old accounts you may have forgotten about. Or check to see if your commonly used usernames pop up anywhere you forgot about by plugging them into Namechk.com or KnowEm.com.

Also smart: Use a password generator, suggests Zulfikar Ramzan, vice president at identity theft protection site Aura.com. If you’re like most people, you’ve reused your username and passwords in the past — which means if there’s a data breach on old accounts, hackers may get access to your log-in info for multiple accounts. Luckily, password generator sites like LastPass and Dashlane not only can help you automatically create and securely save unique passwords, they also can scan to see if your old commonly used passwords pop up on any dark web sites or data breach announcements, so you can change them and stay safe.

Related: 6 Tips to Protect Your Finances and Prevent Fraud

2. Remove yourself from public record sites

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Quick! Do a Google search of your full name. Shocked by how many sites come up offering your current address, age and contact info? “Sites like PeekYou.com and PeopleFinder.com are known as ‘data brokers’ — they mine the internet to gather and sell personal data, mainly to marketing companies,” explains digital privacy expert James Wilson, founder of MyDataRemoval.com. “But hackers and scammers can also use those sites to access your personal info so they can steal your identity.”

The good news they don’t want you to know? These sites are legally required to offer opt-outs. Just visit the site and complete their process, which typically involves filling out a form. Or, if your data pops up on many sites, consider paying for a data removal service, such as Aura, IdentityForce or PrivacyGuard, Wilson suggests. These charge a small monthly fee, around $10, to go through the process of opting out of data broker sites for you and keep an eye out if you pop up on any new ones in the future.

Also, if you sign up for a new online account or download a new app and they ask if they can share your information with third parties, always click “no,” as this is another common way brokers get your information.

Also smart: Take a look at your social media accounts, since data brokers also scan those to harvest information. Make sure your profiles are set to “private” when possible, and remove any unnecessary biographical info like your birthdate, current address, cellphone number and email.

Related: 3 Top Tips to Avoiding Sneaky Travel Scams 

3. Ditch software you don’t use

Whether it’s apps that have been gathering digital dust on our smartphone or a photo editing program we downloaded to our laptop on a lark, most of us have a whole collection of unused software — and each of them is a potential window hackers can use to break into your device.

“Once software becomes old or out-of-date, it can contain vulnerabilities that make them appealing targets for cyberattacks,” says Abner Miller, security expert and founder of tech blog StarAndLink. “Attackers can sometimes access your device via those programs and either steal your personal information or lock you out and demand a ‘ransom’ before allowing you back in.”

The good news: You can remove old software from the majority of devices via the applications manager, located in “settings.” The manager will list all the apps and/or programs currently on your device — if you haven’t used one for six months or more, it’s likely time to send it to the trash. Removing old software not only will make you safer, it will also make your device work faster and free up memory and storage space.

Also smart: Enable automatic updates, Miller suggests. This is also located under “settings,” and it ensures that security updates sent for the software you own will be downloaded automatically so you’re always protected.  

Bonus: Simple ways to clean your email inbox

Delete unwanted messages using an app

Mailstrom, Cleanfox and Unroll.me scan your inbox and automatically delete thousands of spam messages, newsletters and other unwanted mail in seconds. Some will also automatically unsubscribe you from marketing mailing lists, helping to prevent future emails from piling up, too.

Put ‘unreads’ on hold

If your unread message count is stressing you out too much to properly sort through your inbox, simply move those emails into a separate folder and change their status from “unread” to “read” using your email program’s settings. Then set a reminder on your phone for a month later — if you still haven’t gotten to those messages in that time, chances are there’s nothing important in them and you can just delete the whole folder.

Ask yourself this simple question

When was the last time you needed an email that was five or more years old? What about two or three years old? If the answer is never, it’s safe to say you can sort your inbox by date and mass delete anything sent and received from that far back.


For more life hacks, click through the links below!

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