Protecting Your Identity: The New Social Responsibility

14 March 2016

Ever since “The Year of the Data Breach,” data security has found itself a position in many Canadian homes as a regular topic of conversation. When we were young, we checked under our beds for monsters. Then, our parents warned us not to ride a bike without a helmet. Now, we think twice about our personal information being exposed by a data breach whenever we sign up for a new account of any kind.

After several years of data breach after data breach exposing hundreds of customer records at a time, many have called for businesses to prioritize customer data security the same way they protect the environment or the health of their employees. This obligation is called the “new corporate responsibility.”

It is undoubtedly imperative that companies start sprinting toward systematic solutions to better protect their customers’ data from cybercriminals, especially considering the sheer volume of information they collect at every stage of each transaction they process. That being said, the burden of protection cannot fall entirely on the companies that hold onto our data. We also have a responsibility to ourselves to exercise better care and control over our valuable information before we ever entrust it to these corporations. After all, in today’s digital world, if we fail to protect our data, we risk making our identities vulnerable.

In this sense, data protection has become our own “social responsibility” as Canadians, demanding our proactive diligence and attention as we seek to limit the threats to our digital lives. Here’s how your commitment could have a significant impact on your identity theft protection:

Use a single credit card for online ordering

Although you may place orders from as many as a dozen online retailers, you should place all of those purchases on just one card. That way if any of your accounts are compromised in a data breach, you only have to cancel one card to make sure the stolen information is no longer usable. Opting to use a credit card rather than a debit card for online ordering can also help limit the damage of ID theft resulting from a data breach, because credit cards do not allow the same direct access to the funds in your bank account as debit or ATM cards.

Secure your accounts with unique passwords

If you reuse passwords between your accounts, a breach at just one company could be enough to compromise the security of your data no matter where it is stored. Equip each of your accounts with a strong password you commit to never sharing or writing down.

Open your snail mail

These days, with important bills and communication arriving primarily by email, it can be tempting to let your paper mail sit unopened for days or even weeks. However, when companies experience a data breach, they typically inform their customers with a letter. Opening these letters right away is crucial so that you can take steps to protect your identity as soon as possible. If you receive one of these letters, promptly change the password and cancel any cards associated with the account in question. Also be sure to keep an extra close eye on upcoming bank statements or credit reports for signs of certain activity that could indicate fraud.

Teach your kids

With children using internet-connected devices at younger and younger ages, it is important to teach them smart habits early. Remind them that signing up for “free” services might not always be a good idea, especially when they require personal information to register. Installing parental controls is also a good way to help them avoid accidentally visiting sites that may be riddled with malware. If you share a device, this could be especially important, as any malicious software could also compromise the information stored on your login.

While the above practices can certainly help protect you from the effects of data breaches, there is no way to completely stop cybercriminals from attacking a company where your information is stored. To help you mitigate the effects of identity theft, a credit monitoring service can help monitor your credit report and alert you to certain activity that may indicate fraud. With that knowledge, you can take the steps you need to protect against further damage to your finances.