So we are going to venture a little off-topic today with a matter of important concern to all of us in the online world: data privacy. Today is National Data Privacy Day, and it is time for a checkup!
No, you are not immune, my friend.
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Like many bloggers, I wrote this post several weeks ago and got it all ready to go live on National Data Security Day. But here’s the thing. It was a little late. Why?
Because in the last few weeks, my family has been hit with financial data hacking. We don’t know all the details yet, but several different credit cards and banks have been hit.
So tip: setup all your online account alerts. Make sure you are alerted every time someone requests a username or lost password, every time someone changes an address or security alert. Every one of the attacks have involved requests to change usernames, passwords, and addresses.
Protect Yourself on National Data Privacy Day!
According to Data Breach Investigations Report produced by Verizon, there were [highlight]2,260 confirmed data breaches across 82 countries in 2016.[/highlight]
Have you been to see a doctor? [highlight]Nearly 90% of health care organizations have suffered at least one data breach[/highlight] in the last two years, according to one study. And you probably gave them your social security number!
Javelin Surveys reports that [highlight]$35,600 stolen per minute in the United States as a result of identity theft.[/highlight] When an existing credit card is exposed and then used for fraud, the average loss is $1,251. When a Social Security number is exposed and then used to open new accounts, the average loss is $2,330.
As you can see, data privacy and data security are important topics! Even deserving of its own National Data Privacy Day!
And really, it’s a good time to go through all your accounts, devices and paperwork. College football is over. We are in the week between NFL playoffs and the Super Bowl, with only the Pro Bowl to entertain us – and really, how many of you are excited to watch that?
And baseball, whether MLB/spring training or college, hasn’t started yet. And January isn’t exactly known for having the best days to be outside. So let’s get working…
Protect Your Laptop Hard Drive
Can you imagine what would happen if someone got a hold of your computer without your permission? What if they could get all of your information without even physically touching your computer? Man your laptop is probably brimming with lots of goodies for an identity thief.
Steps you should take to protect your personal computer on National Data Privacy Day:
- Password protect your computer. Seems simple enough, but way too many computers are left completely unprotected.
- Use a screen lockout to require a password after 5-10 minutes of inactivity. Shorten this time if you are often in risky locations, like public work areas.
- Update your operating system and software security patches. Automate this if you can.
- Use antivirus and anti-malware software. Sure it won’t protect against everything, but it is a start.
- Encrypt your hard-drive.
- Encrypt USB drives that contain sensitive information.
- Buy and use a laptop lock for physically securing your laptop when you travel or work out of the home or office. I would always use the lock in the RV since we are such targets for theft!
Protect Your Cellphone
How much data does your cellphone have on you? What happens if it falls into the hands of an unscrupulous person? Same goes for your iPad or tablet!
Take two steps to prevent unauthorized access to your cellphone:
- Add a PIN or password to the lock screen
- Encrypt the phone
Change Your Passwords
Did you know that financial motives make up 75% of company data breaches? Only 14% were from insiders. For most companies, it is a matter of when they discover the breach, not when or if they will be breached.
Do you remember the Yahoo data breach announcement in December where data on one billion user accounts was stolen? That is a lot of passwords, many of which are probably used for a lot of different online accounts.
National Data Privacy Day is a good day to change all your passwords. For your bank accounts, Google, and social media. Some more places that you need to think about: cloud storage like DropBox, online streaming services like Pandora and Netflix, and online shopping sites like Amazon.
Experts advise that you have a different password for each site and to not store them in your browser. But that is hard to keep track of. One solution is to use a password manager. PCMag recently took a look at the top 10 (paid) password managers for 2017. PCMag also has a roundup on the free password managers.
Also, have you thought about multi-factor authentication measures on your social media accounts? Sometimes, a username and password is just not enough to protect your account. You can add protection to your account at most major important websites. Your credit card companies and banks are probably using this already – you know where they require a code to be sent to your email or phone when you use a new device.
Check Your Credit Report
Your credit score is very important, as it can be the difference between getting a mortgage or not and reducing your car insurance rates. Or financing that fancy new RV you have your eye on!
Federal law gives you access to a free credit report from each of the three major credit reporting bureaus each year. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to get your free report. Then review the report to make sure that all of the information is accurate. Most importantly, make sure that all the accounts are in fact your accounts.
[highlight]Tip: Setup free credit report monitoring! Request only one report today. Then in four months request from another bureau. Four months later, you would request the third report. Then start over, by requesting the first report at the one year mark! [/highlight]
Of course, if you find anything wrong in a report, you’ll need to request the other report(s) so that you can clean up the same information on those reports. But there are options for getting additional reports if you find errors that need correcting.
After you have everything cleaned up on your credit report, it may be a good idea to place a credit freeze on your credit report. This will prevent people, including yourself, from opening accounts in your name.
You can also opt-out of prescreened credit card offers. You’ll also reduce junk mail (yay! environment) and reduce your personal information out there for identity thieves.
Paper, Ugh, all the Paper
You are lucky that this year, National Data Privacy Day – January 28 – is on a Saturday because this gives you a chance to go through all the paper! Do you really need to keep all those records with your personal bank account information and social security number on it?
What You Need to Keep
Things that you’ll want to keep forever, include:
- Birth Certificate
- Adoption Records
- Citizenship and Naturalization Records
- Marriage licenses and divorce decrees
- Professional licensing information
- Military records
- Proof that you paid off your student loan! Personally, you might even want to frame that (or a copy with your account number blacked out!)
- Any court orders and particularly satisfactions of judgment or garnishment
- Retirement and pension documents – it may be a long time until you need these, but you’ll want a record of what you put in and what the plan says you’ll get out.
- Investment Records – again, the long-term need for them puts them in the “permanent” file, but a minimum of seven years after sale
- Tax returns
Some people recommend that you keep tax returns for only seven years, but my CPA recommends that you keep them longer. Why? Because there is no statute of limitations if you never file a return. And a copy of your filed return, plus a copy of the check for any amount due or a refund, is good evidence that you filed. Also, keep your W-2s, 1099s, charitable deduction receipts, and investment statements with your tax returns.
What is Generally Safe to Toss
And by toss, we mean destroy in a secure manner. At a minimum, you should use a good cross-cut shredder. You can also take the documents to a document destruction facility. Many office supply stores, including Office Depot, provide this service at low or no cost to their customers for small batches. You can also have a quite satisfying day of burning a bunch of papers if you want. Because, hey, we all love a good bonfire!
These are general recommendations. You’ll need to use your best judgment based on your situation.
You can scan some items and then discard the paper item if space and physical security of the documents is a consideration. But others, like personal records from the government (birth certificate, military discharge papers, marriage licenses and divorce decrees) need to be kept in their original form. Scanned copies are sometimes acceptable and an advisable backup, but other times the original document is required.
Toss After One Year
- Small dollar receipts – think your fast food stops, ATM visits, run of the mill clothes shopping. These are receipts for items that don’t have a warranty or are tax-related.
- Check stubs, assuming your W-2 has already come in for last year and all the amounts match
- Utility bills
Toss After Three Years
- Credit card statements
- Cancelled checks for all but major purchases – wait, are even still writing checks? Does your bank still send these to you?
- Medical bills – typically, billing disputes are resolved by this point. Obviously, if any disputes are still going on, retain the records.
Toss After Seven Years
You can destroy most of the documents supporting the underlying transactions on your tax return after seven years. Obviously, here you are using a lot of discretion. For any large dollar or significant item, we would recommend that you keep these documents in your permanent tax record. But others are safe to get rid of now.
- Bank statements
- Tax related receipts
- House purchase and sale documents and major renovations receipts – seven years after you sell the house
And some things just don’t fit into a nice, neat round number
- Life insurance policies: for the life of the policy
- Car purchases documents: for the entire time you own a car, plus three years
- Warranties and instructions: until you get rid of the item.
- Receipts for these items too.
- Add seven years for the receipts if they have tax consequences.
How are You Protecting Yourself on National Data Privacy Day?
Remember to protect your personal data so that you won’t be the subject of identity theft! Wouldn’t you rather be out tailgating than cleaning up that mess? I know I have my eye on a shiny new RV, and I don’t want any problems when I go to buy it!
Comment below on how you are protecting yourself!