The average Internet user now spends more than 6 hours per day online. When you visit websites and consume information, you leave a trail. The morsels of data you leave in your wake can put you at risk of data breaches and fraud. A study by the University of Maryland revealed that a data breach occurs every 39 seconds. In 2020 alone, the cost of identity fraud in the US reached over $55 billion, with almost 50 million people affected (source).
Most of us have a digital footprint and it may be a lot larger and more expensive than we think. Reducing or removing the trail of breadcrumbs on websites and apps can make it much more difficult for companies or individuals to access sensitive data. In this article, we’ll outline some steps you can take to lower risks and protect yourself.
Ways to remove your digital footprint
Cybercrime and identity fraud are more prevalent than ever. Many of us use websites without thinking about the information we’re sharing or the clues we’re leaving behind. To reduce risks and be proactive in fraud prevention, here are some tips to help you remove or reduce your digital footprint:
- Delete unused email accounts
If you’ve still got email accounts from your college days, or you have multiple accounts, some of which you never use, it’s wise to delete unused accounts. If hackers manage to access an old account, they will be able to obtain information about you and your contacts and they may try to impersonate you. Gaining access to one account may also open more doors because many people use the same passwords for different sites, apps, accounts and profiles. If you do have more than one email account, make sure you use a unique password and change your passwords frequently.
- Adjust your social media privacy settings
Social media is a great platform for connecting with others and staying in touch with friends and family, but it can be dangerous. Apps and sites often encourage us to share data, including our location, our likes and dislikes and our jobs and interests. Most people don’t want to delete social media, but reducing usage and adjusting your privacy settings can be beneficial. Make sure your profile is private and your posts are shared with friends only.
- Say no to surveys
Online surveys, quizzes and polls may seem like a fun way to pass time, but they are often used to gather information about you. If you’re surfing and a survey pops up in a new window, skip it. Without realizing, you could be sharing all kinds of nuggets of information about yourself. Just a few questions that are disguised in a light-hearted quiz can provide companies with valuable data.
- Manage your location settings
You may have noticed that when you use certain apps, a box opens asking you to give permission for the app to use your location. This can be helpful if you’re using a service that gives you information about local restaurants, for example, but it can also expose you to risks. Make sure you adjust the settings to ensure that apps only track your location when you’re using them.
- Read the terms and conditions
How many times have you clicked on the ‘accept terms and conditions’ box without reading the small print? Research suggests that 91% of web users and 97% of 18-24-year-olds agree to the terms and conditions without reading them. The chunk of text in question may contain information about accessing and sharing data, which most of us are agreeing to without a second thought. Always take the time to read the text.
- Remove your name from people search sites
People search sites are run by online data brokers, who offer access to data in exchange for money. In just a few seconds, it’s possible to gather information, such as names, email addresses and telephone numbers. This information can be shared far and wide, making you a target. If you start to receive a lot of spam emails or messages and calls from numbers you don’t know, this could be a sign that companies have accessed information about you. Search for online broker sites and follow the instructions to remove yourself. It’s also important to opt out of communications from third parties when you buy products or place orders online.
If you use the Internet, you may be leaving a trail of information and important, valuable data behind without even realizing. Your digital footprint can make you a target. To reduce the risk of identity fraud, it’s crucial to understand the risks and to be proactive in protecting personal data. Delete old email accounts, always read the terms and conditions, remove yourself from online broker sites, limit exposure to social media and say no to surveys and quizzes.