Have you searched online yourself lately? Your identity may be at risk

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Simple things like your birthday and address, when made public, can put your identity at risk. (Photo: Getty)

It is one of the taboos of our time, but many of us are guilty of it. In fact, 41 percent of Americans are brave enough to admit that they plug their own names into search engines often. But have you ever wondered who else studies your online footprint? Here’s a hint: It’s not just old flames and nosy coworkers. Identity thieves are also watching your digital presence – and identity theft has been increasing since the start of the pandemic.

Online criminals have a plethora of weapons in their arsenal, from phishing emails to password hacking. But first they need to know you exist – and the more they know about you, the easier it is to lure you. However, it doesn’t take anything as dramatic as a security breach at a major corporation to dig the dirt on you. Scammers usually start with the plain old internet; it is the path of least resistance.

How can cyber criminals use your digital footprint against you?

Identity Theft, Yahoo Protect

Criminal jackers look closely at your personal information on people search engines, social media sites and more. (Photo: Getty)

A quick search on your name alone generates links to dozens of what cybersecurity experts call “people search engines,” similar to the Internet’s versions of phone directories. Many of these sites don’t even require a membership to access things like your home address, email address, phone number, date of birth, and relatives. The information isn’t always 100 percent accurate, but scammers can find plenty of leads.

Protect by Yahoo offers 24/7 live agent support.  (Photo: Protect by Yahoo)

Protect by Yahoo offers 24/7 live agent support. (Photo: Protect by Yahoo)

Protect by Yahoo lives up to its name – it includes McAfee Multi Access that protects up to five devices – PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets – against viruses and malware that can sneak into your computer while you shop online, surf social media or even check your email . It uses the power of award-winning McAfee software, but Yahoo Protect is much more than just an antivirus software package.

This package offers a unique form of support, including 24/7 live Yahoo Assist from Yahoo! agents (read: real, living people) who provide phone support for just about every device in your home that might be disturbed, including your computers, printers, Wi-Fi network, and even your smart TVs. Because it’s a Yahoo! product, 24/7 phone support is also available for your Yahoo account. If you have problems with your password and login, email account, Fantasy Sports, the Yahoo search engine, or the homepage, call the Yahoo agents.

This software package also takes care of all your passwords – all of them. Protect by Yahoo includes LastPass, the industry’s leading password manager. It stores the passwords for every site you subscribe to — from your online checking account to your streaming TV account — in one secure digital “vault” and logs you in automatically. That means you’ll never have to remember a password (other than your LastPass account password) and never worry about your passwords getting hacked.

Your social media accounts will also undoubtedly be the top search results, with all kinds of personal information: your workplace, hobbies, and even your pet’s name, an all-too-common security question. And popular real estate sites wouldn’t be far behind, sometimes revealing the details of your property ownership in great detail.

Hackers are hungry for intimate information like this. It’s easy for them to connect the dots until a full profile of your life appears – and from there they can more easily guess your passwords, impersonate you in an attempt to take over your accounts, or send you malicious links that are disguised as friendly emails.

Once hackers get their sticky fingers on your most private information, all hell can break loose. There are many things you can and should do manually to clean up your digital footprint, but that takes some time. The easiest first step is to install powerful cybersecurity software that protects you from incoming threats in the meantime.

Best practices for cleaning up your digital footprint yourself

There is a lot you can do to protect your online identity from predators.  (Photo: Getty)

There is a lot you can do to protect your online identity from predators. (Photo: Getty)

Cybersecurity software is powerful. It is undeniable. But there are manual steps you can take to make yourself much less visible online — or nearly invisible, if you prefer.

The first step is to unsubscribe from every possible human search engine… and there are many. It’s like unsubscribing from the phone book when dozens of companies publish different ones – so yes, it’s a bit more cumbersome, but worth it. Here is a fairly comprehensive list of them along with removal instructions.

A few more tips:

  • Delete email addresses you no longer use.

  • Remove or severely restrict the privacy of your social media accounts.

  • Contact web administrators of all sites, including sites that have published news articles or blog posts revealing your personal information. Politely ask them to delete your personal information for privacy reasons.

  • Contact ‘data brokers’, the repositories that hold your data and pass it on to human search engines, and request removal.

  • Unsubscribe from newsletters that collect and share your information.

  • Use a VPN (Virtual Private Network) to browse the web.

  • Routinely delete all cookies and cached information from every web browser you use so that sites cannot track you.

  • Opt out of social login and use unique passwords instead (managed by a password manager) and an anonymous email account.

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