Hackers got you down? How not to be a victim

If you pay any attention to the daily news you know that large companies — presumably with good security procedures — are being hacked regularly. That means, if you are a customer of one of these companies, computer crooks have a big hunk of your personal information.

Credit card data, email addresses, the password you use to log onto that particular business’ website, perhaps even your Social Security information may be — right now — selling to the highest bidder.

This is especially disheartening for those of you who work hard at protecting your computer from hackers. All that work on your part and yet a business or company that you trusted coughed up everything you had tried to protect.

This kind of security breach is going to become more and more common. It’s like Willie Sutton, the bank robber said (or so legend goes) when asked why he robbed banks. “That’s where the money is.” These modern-day crooks are hitting large business for the same reason.

So, what to do? That’s what we’ll talk about today. And please don’t take any of this to mean that — despite this secondary risk – you should ignore all the methods we’ve discussed in the past to protect your own computer.

Use a unique password for each website

OK, let’s say crooks have breached a website you use that requires a password and user name. And — just for fun — let’s say none of your financial or personal data is stored there. So far, so good. But if you use the same password for other — more important sites, maybe for banking or a business where you use your credit card — you could be in trouble. The first thing the crooks will do is try that password at other sites. That’s why it’s imperative that you use different passwords for each site, even innocent ones. It’s a hassle but the extra effort is nothing compared to waking up and finding out that your identity has been stolen or that you bank account has been wiped out.

Monitor your credit history

Since so much of this is beyond your control, it’s important that you regularly check your bank balance and your credit history. Beyond keeping track of your accounts at banks and brokerage firms, I recommend that you sign up with Credit Karma – it’s one of the few places that promises to be free and then actually delivers on that promise.

Consider using a service such as LifeLock

Even with your best efforts, it's possible for crooks to get your data before you notice it. You should do one of two things. Either sign up for a service such as LifeLock (there are others, I mention it as an example) or contact the three major credit reporting agencies and freeze your credit. This excellent web page will tell you how to freeze your credit and also explains the consequences of doing it (it's not as bad as you may think): www.clarkhoward.com/news/clark-howard/personal-finance-credit/credit-freeze-and-thaw-guide/nFbL/

Use credit cards, not debit cards

Using a credit card gives you a huge amount of protection. A debit card? Not so much. So use a credit card for all your purchases – at the store and online.

See how many breaches a company has had

Take a few moments to Google the various businesses and financial institutions you patronize. See if any of them have been hit by a database breach. Here’s my theory on breaches. If a company’s database has just been breached a single time, well that may be a point in its favor. Usually companies spend a lot of time and money to fix the problem after a breach. However, if there have been multiple breaches, chances are you may be dealing with idiots. Don’t do business there.

So, there’s even more on your plate now when it comes to avoiding. That means more work for you. But it’s worth it – after all, you’re working to keep your life and your money safe.