How to Protect Your Personally Identifiable Information Online

We’re connected to the wide world of the internet from almost every device we own today. From smartphones and desktops, to laptops, tablets, and even our watches. It seems like almost everything we own these days has “smart” capabilities, which means that it has some kind of access to the digital world and the online network. As a result, it’s becoming increasingly important that we’re aware of the risks of being connected, no matter how often we use our devices. But let’s face it, even if we’re not using a device, it’s likely connected to the internet because many of us don’t bother disconnecting our laptops and tablets from the Wi-Fi network when we’re at home, anyway.

During your online adventures lately, you’re probably hearing more about the increasing need to protect your privacy and PII online. This is likely due to the number of identity fraud – or identity theft – cases becoming more frequent, or perhaps it’s due to those tech giants coming under fire about the way they use our data that they’ve collected from us, users, on their platforms. Whatever the case, the idea of protecting your PII has piqued your interest and you’ve decided to do something about it.

What Is PII?

We’ll start with the basics. What is Pii? This acronym stands for personally identifiable information. In this case, we’re concerned with how it’s managed and kept secure online. Now, it’s important to note that PII is related to an identified or identifiable individual, like you, who can be identified either directly or indirectly, when used alone or linked to other online identifiers provided by their devices, applications, tools, and protocols.

Directly, PII includes the more obvious, but highly sensitive, details about who you are. These include your Social Security Number if you’re a US citizen, as well as your facial image, medical information, financial information, phone numbers, and so on. These aspects of data can be directly and easily linked back to you.

On the other hand, indirect PII includes your online accounts, such as your Google or Apple ID, Amazon account, Facebook profile, and so on. These accounts are linked to your direct PII elements, and so can be used in conjunction with them to identify who you are, what you do, your online (and offline) behavior, and so on. By being connected all day, we’re essentially sharing many aspects of our lives with big data organizations who collect this information. With so much information that we don’t even know that we’re sharing, how do we protect our PII online? There are numerous methods to do so without going off the grid completely, so let’s get into them.


Keep Track of Your Social Security Number

For citizens of the United States, your Social Security Number is one of the most valuable pieces of PII that we own. This information is highly sensitive for a variety of reasons. So much of our personal data, history, and possibility is linked to this number. Social Security Numbers are linked to our finances and employment – two huge aspects of our lives. It should go without saying, then, that you shouldn’t be careless with your Social Security card. Keep it in a secure place, not something like your wallet or handbag that could be stolen or misplaced.

While certain organizations that we interact with may ask us for our Social Security Numbers for billing purposes, we don’t always have to provide it. Always make a point of asking why an organization requires your Social Security Number and check up on their privacy policies and on which kinds of organizations absolutely require that you provide them with this information.


Invest in Comprehensive Digital Security

Digital security is essential today, for whichever device you own. By and large, almost every device connects to the internet and begins to search for a connection when we switch them on for the first time. While antivirus software is a must, a complete digital security platform offers much more than that. These platforms offer protection from malware, spyware, and ransomware, too. Many reputable digital security platforms also offer identity theft protection that helps you with the fallout should you fall victim to this crime.


Stay Aware of Phishing Scams

Phishing scams are ways for scammers to gain access to your PII so that they can sell it on the dark web or use it for themselves. Basically, we don’t want anyone else to have our PII, especially strangers from the internet or on the other end of a phone call. Phishing employs social engineering tactics to gain your trust in the hopes that you’ll give up your PII. Email phishing is really common. Make sure you know the person who’s sent you an email before clicking on any links that you’re sent.


Be Careful on Social Media

We love to share every aspect of our lives on social media today. This has the potential of being highly detrimental to our online security and can offer cybercriminals a lot more information to our PII than we think.

Think about what you’re posting on your social media accounts to make sure that you don’t give away any sensitive information in your information or images. When travelling, make sure your passport number is not visible in a post, for example. Also, try not to share your location in your posts either, and always ensure that your privacy settings are turned all the way up so that only those who follow you can see your posts.


Use a VPN

A virtual private network, or VPN, helps to protect your PII by encrypting your internet connection. Therefore, your online activity remains private on any network, including public Wi-Fi hotspots. Public Wi-Fi hotspots are easy to hack into, so a VPN is especially handy here. Even so, ensure that you don’t make financial transactions or log into sensitive accounts while on public Wi-Fi – even with a VPN.

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