Do you use a smart phone, tablet or desktop computer to connect with friends and make purchases, as well as share health concerns with your doctor? If so, your privacy may be at risk.
Companies called "data brokers" routinely compile information about your habits and preferences, including your favorite brands, recreational pursuits and credit habits. Data brokers use this information to create profiles and scoring models, which are then sold to retailers, advertisers and other organizations.
Although much of this activity is legitimate and may even help you snag a good deal, being careful when sharing personal information is always a smart choice. Here are suggestions on how to do so:
1. Think twice about what you share on social media. At best, data-mining companies may scour your profile to create a consumer file that's sold to marketers. At worst, fraudsters may use your posts to steal your identity or break into your house when you're on vacation. This doesn’t mean you have to close all your social medial accounts. Instead, be cognizant of the level of details you share about your life and your loved ones.
2. Be wary of free Wi-Fi. Some retailers use cell phone networks to keep track of the aisles you visit in their stores. Your local coffee shop might have a free — but unsecured — network. By logging on, you may unwittingly provide access to private information on your laptop or phone.
Use your own network or hotspot if you need to get online and want a secure way to do so.
3. Delete cookies. Small text files called "cookies" can be created and stored on your computer when you visit websites. Although cookies usually cannot be used to reveal personally identifying information, marketing firms may use the data to create a profile of your surfing habits.
Clear your browsing history and delete cookies on a regular basis. Use your browser's privacy settings to make this task happen automatically.
4. Lock down and protect your devices. You wouldn't leave town with your doors unlocked. Don't make the same mistake with your mobile devices and computers.
Establish a boot and/or reactivation password on each device. Use a cable lock when leaving your laptop in public places. Install anti-virus software on all mobile devices, and keep a watchful eye on easily stolen electronics.
5. Pay with cash. If you don't want strangers to learn your purchasing habits, use physical money. Sometimes that's the best way to keep private information to yourself.
As always, feel free to pass this Tip along to friends, and reach out if you need help with your personal tax and finance situation.