Share with care: Protect yourself and your business online

David Pollino
Posted by David Pollino

With Data Privacy Day occurring this month (January 28), it’s a great time to think about online safety for you and your business.

Business woman sitting on steps looking at her laptop while 2 businessmen on higher step try to peer over her shoulders to her laptop.About 7% of persons aged 16 and over were victims of identity theft in 2014. With enough identifying information, a criminal can take over or assume an individual’s or business’s identity to conduct a wide range of crimes. Follow the tips below to help prevent theft and misuse of your information.

Always share with care

The more you, your business, and your employees share publicly online, the easier it is for criminals to take and use your information. All the information you share is potentially useful to thieves involved in identity theft, fraud, impersonation, and masquerading. Think of your online data as an asset with real value. Here are 7 tips for protecting it:

1. Your personal info is like money. Value it. Protect it. Information about you, such as your purchase history or location, has value. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps and websites.
2. Be aware of what’s being shared. Set the privacy and security settings on Web services and devices to your comfort level for information sharing. Limit how and with whom you share information.
3. Think before you post. Think before posting about yourself and others online. Consider what it reveals about you or your business, who might see it, and how it could be perceived now and in the future. Post only about others as you would have them post about you.
4. Know who you’re sharing with. Only share and connect with people you know or whose identity you can verify.
5. Less is better. Provide as little information as possible to register on social media sites. When possible use an alias or nickname rather than your actual name, which crooks can use as a starting point for gathering information about you
6. Create strong passwords. And don’t share them with anyone.
7. Read the fine print. Take a few minutes to read the privacy and security policies of social networks you want to join. Understand what information the site will gather about you and what will be done with it. Sites, for example, that allow you to login using your Facebook or LinkedIn accounts will frequently take all your connections. Do you want this site to have access to all your friends, family, or business connections?

Boost protection for your business

Businesses face significant risks from identity theft. For example, stolen information can be used by fraudsters to authorize financial transactions, such as wire transfers, based on misinformation. Businesses need to verify the identity of people calling, texting, or emailing about sensitive information as an important step to help reduce the risk of identity theft.

Strong authentication procedures can help to ensure anyone requesting information or ordering financial transactions is who they say they are. A key element of an authentication procedure is that it be based on information that is not commonly shared on social media sites. (Having a fellow employee verify her birthdate over the phone, for example, would be a weak procedure, since sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn routinely remind our connections on these days to wish us happy birthday.) Businesses that provide routine training around authentication procedures can help keep their employees aware of the risks and the steps for reducing those risks.

Another worthwhile step for businesses is to share and reinforce a social media policy that addresses the appropriate use of social media for business purposes by employees. There are many resources to help, and two that I’ve found useful come from the Small Business Administration, which offers a basic guide for creating a social media policy and a guide for employers looking to monitor employee online activity.

Keep your devices clean

Last but definitely not least, keep your devices clean. Keep all software, operating systems (mobile and PC), and apps up to date to protect against data loss from infections and malware. Most operating systems and software will notify you when it’s time to upgrade – don’t ignore these messages and update as soon as you can. Old versions of software can sometimes have security problems that criminals can use to more easily get to your data.

Protecting yourself and your business online takes time and thought. But the effort you put in may keep you from being a victim down the road, saving you the stress and potential loss that can result from information theft.

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