We use the Internet now more than ever before. In fact, a recent study has shown that Americans spend an average of 23.6 hours online each week. That’s a lot of activity happening online and a great deal of information being shared. Privacy and identity theft are becoming increasingly more of a concern and for valid reasoning. Cybercriminals are becoming smarter, future employers are digging more into our pasts and identity theft is rising. One thing that is clear in this digital era, is the importance of taking action in protecting and cleaning up your digital identity for your own privacy and self-improvement. This new year, make a resolution to yourself to clean up your digital presence.
What Is Your Digital Identity?
Everything that you own and share online contributes to what is known as your digital identity. This collection of data leaves a trail of footprints everywhere you go online whether you’re logging into a site or searching for something on a search engine. Because of this, it’s important to make sure that your information is secure and not being put at risk.
Many businesses and colleges today dig into your digital past to check for anything alarming. A funny tweet you posted 6 years ago, an inappropriate photo a friend shared of you, or even a controversial “like” could make the difference between you or a competitor with identical experience getting a job. Don’t let one small mistake jeopardize your future.
Where Can My Information Be Seen Online?
Next time you sit down at your computer, take a minute out of your day to conduct a google search of your first and last name. Make sure to try various spellings and adding in any titles you any have after your name. What do the results show? Are they positive or negative?
If you’re embarrassed by something in the results, others who find it will likely think negatively of it as well. Always think twice before posting online. If the item was posted by a friend, ask them politely to remove it and if it is on a site you don’t have access to, contact the web administrator to remove it. Remember, however, that not everything is permanently deleted. What was once online is capable of being found again.
Beyond your initial search, you’ll also want to do a deeper dive into your presence on these online places:
- Online accounts
- Retweets on Twitter
- Likes on Facebook
- Comments on articles
- Instagram photos
- Signed petitions online
Activities That Could Put Your Information at Risk
The best time to put keep your information secure is from the beginning. Use precaution when going online. Ask yourself: is this website secure? Will I be embarrassed by this photo in 10 years? Should I really be entering my credit card information on this site?
Thinking critically before acting will not only save you from future employers and colleges finding dirt on you but will also help protect you from the risk of cyber criminals attacking you. As you go through the cyber world, each site you visit collects data from your time spent there. Over time, this can accrue into a large amount of stored data on your personal identification. Cybercriminals are able to take this data from these sites to gain a clear picture of your typical behaviors and information. With this, they launch their attack on unsuspecting victims to hack their device, commit identity theft, or breach their devices.
Take extra precautions when:
- Shopping on unsecured websites
- Using public wi-fi
- Sharing photos online with your location
- Chatting with strangers
- Agreeing to install cookies when prompted
How To Improve Your Digital Identity
Now that you understand the dangers involved with taking actions that harm the reputation of your digital identity, it’s time to make positive changes to improve it. Make a checklist for yourself of actionable steps to take.
Start by checking the privacy settings and software on each of your devices. Make sure that everything is up to date. Having the right settings turned on and installing an up to date antivirus software as well as a VPN for public wifi uses will help protect you against a multitude of cybercrimes. Never use the same password twice for another account. Always change it up and ensure that your unique password is a strong combination of numbers, letters, and symbols.
Avoid oversharing as it is not only dangerous but is also unnecessary. While your mother might enjoy the photos of your Caribbean vacation, others may find them to be annoying. A criminal, however, would be more than happy to hear that you are away from your house for a specified period of time long enough for them to rob your home. “Checking in” places on social media and using geo-tagged filters can all be used as cases where individuals can go wrong oversharing.
Finally, monitor your credit report and bank statements constantly. File a report immediately if you notice anything alarming such as fraudulent credit card charges, imposter social media accounts or alarming calls and letters from debt collectors. Even the smallest hesitation that something seems off is worth reporting.