By Wendy Byerly Wood
January 31, 2014
RALEIGH — In recognition of Data Privacy Day, Attorney General Roy Cooper urged North Carolina consumers to protect their personal information, and demanded that businesses and government do more to keep our data safe.
“With the recent data breaches, it’s more important than ever to know how to protect your information,” Cooper said. “We’re investigating these breaches, but there’s a lot consumers can do to protect themselves.”
Here are five steps residents can take to better protect their personal information:
1. Guard your personal information. Don’t respond to requests for information such as your Social Security Number or bank account information, whether they arrive by email, phone or text message. Legitimate companies with which you do business won’t ask for your personal information this way. Avoid links in emails or social network messages unless the link was expected. If you share personal information online with a trusted business, make sure the website is encrypted. Look for a “lock” icon in your browser’s status bar to confirm your information is being safely transmitted.
2. Protect your passwords. Set passwords for your online accounts, computer and cell phone and keep them private. Avoid using easily available information for your PIN or password, such as your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, phone number or a series of consecutive numbers (for example, 1234). The Federal Trade Commission recommends using at least 10 characters for a strong password. Mix up letters, numbers and special characters.
3. Update your privacy settings. If you’re a member of a social network such as Facebook, use privacy settings to keep your information as secure as possible. Criminals can use the information you post on social networks. For example, con artists use information posted by family members on sites like Facebook to pose as grandchildren in trouble and rip off seniors. Consider limiting the information you share on social networks to a small, trusted group of people.
4. Be careful what you share. Even privacy settings aren’t foolproof. Don’t share images or information that you want to remain completely private. Never post private information, like your address or phone number, to social networking sites, and think twice before sharing information that could be used by criminals and hackers, such as when you’ll be away from home or pets’ names that you use as passwords or answers to security questions. It’s especially important to talk to young people about the dangers of sharing too much information online.
5. Act fast if your data is at risk. Recent data breaches by Target, the North Carolina Medicaid system and others have potentially put millions of people’s personal information in the wrong hands. Businesses and state and local government agencies are required to report breaches like these to the Attorney General’s Office. They’re also required to tell consumers. If you are notified your information has been compromised by a security breach, take steps to protect your identity. Immediately change passwords and check any affected accounts for unauthorized activity. Monitor your credit report and consider a security freeze, which stops new credit from being opened in your name.
“Businesses and government have a duty to safeguard personal information we share with them, and these recent breaches show us that they’ve got to do a better job,” Cooper said. “This is also wake-up call for consumers to take action now to check their credit and lock down their personal information.”
For more information, see tips on Internet privacy and identity theft.