There are so many scams around these days, not to mention companies selling your personal information without your knowledge, that it can feel as if it's impossible to have any kind of control over who can see and have your data online.
But it is possible, and we’ll outline a few simple ways to lock down your privacy settings, manage your passwords and keep your finances safe.
How to spot a scam email
Your inbox is probably littered with a lot of unwanted email, but it’s crucial to know your spam from a scam.
Scammers have become a lot better at putting together a convincing email that will usually play on your fears to trick you into handing over information such as account passwords and even credit card numbers or bank details.
You might see emails which say one of your accounts has been suspended or terminated because of suspicious or fraudulent activity. There’s usually a link to click so you can log in and ‘resolve the issue’. But that link probably goes to a fake website that looks like the real deal. If you type in your username and password, you’re handing them straight to the scammer and if you use the same details for other websites then you’ve just compromised your security even more.
If in doubt, never click a link in an email. Instead type the company’s known, trusted website address directly into a web browser (or use Google to find it) and log in to your account that way.
No reputable company will email you out of the blue and ask that you hand over your password or any financial details.
And if you get emails with unbelievable offers for iPads, holidays or anything else, be suspicious if you don’t know the company behind it. Don’t hand over any details or pay for anything until you’re certain that it’s genuine.
Don’t provide extra details
When signing up for a new account online, only fill out the fields which are required. There’s no need to enter your address, phone number or any other personal details (even your middle name) if the site doesn’t force you to.
Obviously, if you’re ordering products you will have to provide a delivery address, but if you’re able to, get items delivered to a work address.
Plus, instead of handing over your bank details, it’s worth setting up a PayPal account and using that wherever possible because the merchant then never sees your bank account or debit card number. If you don’t want to use PayPal, then try Apple Pay or Google Pay.
If you can’t use those, why not set up a bank account specifically for online shopping and only keep a small amount of money in it. That way, if those details are ever compromised in a hack and fall into the wrong hands, any losses will be very limited.
Have multiple email addresses
Email accounts are free, so it’s a good idea to set one up for different online activities, such as shopping, social media, forums etc.
That way, you can limit the amount of unwanted email you have to see as there shouldn’t be any need to regularly check those accounts for email and it keeps your main email account much freer of spam.
It also means you’re not forced to use the same email address for all your online accounts, which is a security risk.
Use a password manager
The reason most people use the same password for multiple accounts is because it’s hard to remember scores of different ones. A password manager solves this by securely storing logins for accounts behind one main username and password. So all you have to remember is a single password.
Better still, good password managers will generate strong passwords and can even update your existing weak passwords for you in some cases. And they’ll automatically enter the login details for a website or app so you don’t have to look them up.
We recommend LastPass and 1Password.
Use a VPN
A VPN ensures the connection between your device and the internet is encrypted. It’s crucial you use a VPN on public, open Wi-Fi as otherwise you’re leaving your data exposed to anyone who wants to snoop.
A single VPN account can usually be used on several devices so you can protect your family’s phones and laptops for around the price of a pint of beer per month.
Check your privacy settings
If you use Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or any other social media sites, then go into your settings and have a look at the privacy options. Unless you changed them, they’ll be set to the defaults which may not give you the privacy you want.
Facebook is the main one to check, as Twitter, Instagram and others are public, so whatever you post is visible to everyone. Facebook lets you lock down your account so only your friends can see what you post, and you can even set up different groups of friends, and exclude specific people when you post.
If you have kids under 13, we advise not to allow them to use social apps which allow anyone and everyone to see what they post. Some apps let you set it to a private account, so only approved followers or friends can see the posts.
Check if your data is compromised
Since there have been many hacks of high-profile companies and websites, you should check to see whether any of your data was compromised. Head to Have I been pwned? and type in your email addresses that you use for online accounts.
If it was included in any of the breaches, they will be listed. Although it may be a little late to stop your data being stolen, you can at least change the password associated with any hacked account to prevent any further access to that account.
There’s no magic bullet when it comes to keeping your data secure online. But use these tips and you’ll stand a far better chance of staying in control of who can see it.