5 Fundamentals for Protecting Your Identity and Your Privacy

A few easy steps will make you much safer from online crooks.

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By Jason Hanson


Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

If you're like me, you're an entrepreneur. We are so busy growing our businesses that we may not think about the risk of identity theft. After all, hackers go after big corporations. Right? Wrong! We are at greater risk of identity theft than large corporations. Yet, we have all seen company after company hacked putting Americans' private information at risk.

Identity theft is the number one complaint received by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) with 15 million victims each year at a cost of $50 billion annually. Identity theft is growing at such a rate, that many people believe there is nothing they can do. Not true. The following personal stories and tips should help you protect your business and yourself.

Related: Don't Despair, ID Theft Is Not Inevitable

1. Beware public Wi-Fi spoofs.

"Can you help me? My identity has been stolen." That was an email I received from a TV show producer. He had been hacked. I told this victim how I believed his identity was stolen. He had been surfing the Internet using public Wi-Fi. This is very risky.

Public Wi-Fi spots found on airplanes, airports, cafes, or malls are completely insecure, and anyone using them should think of everything they type as being broadcast to a billboard in Times Square. Wi-Fi is dangerous because anyone can "spoof " a Wi-Fi spot and then access your data.

When my wife and I moved to Utah, we lived in a townhouse community. When I first logged onto the Internet there were almost a dozen different Wi-Fi spots that popped up. Well, a criminal will do the same and create a Wi-Fi spot and name it. People nearby have no idea that they're not real as these names could be Starbucks or a person's name. As they login and use their passcodes, the criminal downloads all of their information.

One reporter from USA Today had his identity hacked and authorities traced it back to the GoGo Inflight Internet he used. Someone had spoofed the GoGo Wi-Fi and the reporter used the fake spot instead of the real one.

Related: Make Your Businesses Invulnerable to Corporate Identity Theft

2. Virtual private networks.

Protect yourself with a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which extends a private network across a public network, such as the Internet.VPN enables users to send/receive data across share/public networks as if their devices were directly connected to the private network.

There are many VPNs which easy to obtain and use, including TunnelBear which costs about $50 a year. Do your research and find the one you like best. Download it onto your computer and smart phone.

3. Credit freeze.

Next, put a freeze on your credit, I've had mine for about 15 years. This is something I highly recommend and it's one of the smartest moves you can make to protect your identity and privacy. A credit freeze blocks companies from running your credit without your permission. No one will be able to buy a car or take out a mortgage with your credit.

Here's how to put a freeze on your credit report: Contact all three credit-reporting agencies separately. Send a letter by certified mail requesting a freeze be placed on your credit.

Here are the links to each credit agency:

After you request a freeze, the credit agencies provide you with a (PIN) to use when providing access to your credit. Every state charges different fees for placing a credit freeze. This may sound like a lot of work, but just imagine how many hours you would spend on the phone undoing the damage of being hacked. Also carry an Identity Protection card in your wallet. This protects people from hacking your credit cards. For full details on why these cards are so important and to get one for free, click here.

4. Cross shred documents.

Shred everything and only use a crosscut shredder. Don't use a shredder that cuts the paper into strips as these can be put back together.

Related: Your Data Breach Doesn't Have to Produce Identity Theft

5. Bank statement monitoring.

Spend 10 minutes each month reviewing your bank/credit card statements to ensure nothing fraudulent has taken place. If you're still not convinced about the importance of protecting your identity and privacy, here's a horror story about a former Miss Teen USA.

Cassidy Wolf was on her computer when she received an anonymous and threatening email stating that the sender had thousands of pictures of her, including many of her nude, and that he'd been watching her for over a year. The sender was planning to put the pictures all over social media unless she got on Skype with him and agreed to do a series of inappropriate things. It turns out that the sender had hacked her webcam as well as many as 40 other women, some of whom actually gave in to his blackmail demands.

In an interview with Business Insider, Cassidy said, "Your bedroom is your most private and intimate space. To think that someone was watching me for a year, had seen my most intimate moments, heard conversations I had with my mom and my brother, and knew everything about my life -- someone can have access to all of that by your computer." Unfortunately, in the future, there will be even more programs and ways for criminals to hack people's webcams and other computer devices.

I recommend taping a piece of paper over the camera. This is such a simple thing to do and it ensures that nobody can watch you. Also, don't bring your computer into the bedroom. Store your computer in another room or in a laptop bag. And, don't forget about all those other devices that have cameras too, such as your phone and iPad.

In this special report I've given you several ways to better protect yourself. Please start implementing them today so you don't become one of the millions of victims of identity theft this year.

Jason Hanson

Former CIA officer and New York Times bestselling author

Jason Hanson is a former CIA Officer and the New York Times bestselling author of Spy Secrets That Can Save Your Life. As a security specialist, Hanson teaches anti-kidnapping, escape and evasion, evasive driving and much more. For more information, visit www.spyescape.com.

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