Consumer Corner Column

Consumer Corner: Protect your personal information – online and off – for Data Privacy Day

Release Date: Jan 29, 2019

By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

It seems like almost every week we hear a new story about a company’s data being hacked. That data often includes personal information about its customers. We’ve also heard stories about social media sites that have shared our personal information with third parties, and that information is being used to target consumers for advertising and other services that we may not want.

With the incredible volume of information about us that’s out there, it’s more important than ever to take whatever steps you can to secure your information. On January 28, we recognized Data Privacy Day, which is a good reminder to take a few minutes to review your own data security measures. While there’s no foolproof way to avoid becoming a victim of a data breach, there are steps you can take to make yourself less vulnerable to having your information taken and misused. Here are a few tips:

  • Phishing scams. In a phishing scam, an identity thief will send you an email pretending to be your bank, credit card company or another place of business. The email may look official, even containing your bank’s logo. But this is just a scam to gain access to your online accounts. If you use online banking, always go through your bank’s homepage to access your account. Links in emails cannot always be trusted, even if they look official.
  • Viruses. Scam artists and hackers can also gain access to your system by installing a virus on your computer. These viruses can then record your every action on your computer, including capturing your usernames and passwords to online accounts. Only open files from trusted sources. You should also be sure your antivirus software is up-to-date, and regularly scan your system for viruses.
  • Social Media. We share a lot of information online with our friends and family members. This is a great way to keep in touch with these people, but it can also be a window into our personal lives that you may not wish to open to everyone. Take the time to review your privacy settings for the websites and apps that you use and be cautious with what information you choose to share online.
  • Electronic devices. Thieves are always on the lookout for electronics, especially when they are left inside a car. When a thief gets hold of a laptop computer or smartphone, they don’t just get the device itself, but may be able to access the personal information stored on it. Use strong passwords to lock your computer and smartphone and keep them stored in a safe location when not in use. You may also want to put another level of password protection on sensitive files and applications.
  • Physical files. Even with all the information that has been digitized, most of us still have many paper files that contain significant personal information. It’s important to keep these documents in a secure place in our homes and offices, and to properly destroy them when they’re no longer needed. Later this spring, our office will be sponsoring several events across the state to help you safely dispose of personal information.

If you’ve become the victim of identity theft, our office is available to help. Visit our consumer website at www.InYourCornerKansas.org to file a complaint or to learn more about how to keep your personal information safe.

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