Don’t Let Complacency Turn You Into a Victim of Identity Theft or Fraud

Do you consider yourself an Internet privacy guru? How far do you go to ensure you remain anonymous online? Check yourself against this list and see where you stand!

1. Remember to Log Out

Logging out of your social media and online bank accounts after using them is like locking your front door when you leave home. It’s quick, simple, and prevents unwanted intruders from gaining access to your personal data.

Some people believe merely closing the window where you are logged in is enough to prevent others from accessing your account. The truth is, you may still be signed in to your account on that device, leaving you vulnerable to tracking. The only way to be sure is to log yourself out when you are done using an online service – especially if you are using a public machine/network.

2. Don’t Access Confidential Accounts on Public Networks/Devices

Come to think about it, it’s best that you don’t log in to your social media or online bank accounts at all when you’re out in public. Many of these networks routinely gather and send your data to third parties, and rogue networks can snoop your traffic and passwords or inject malware and ads onto your device.

The best way to protect yourself against such risks is to avoid accessing your social media or online bank via a public connection or someone else’s device. But if you have to (or really really want to), you should…

3. Use a VPN

Connecting your device to a VPN redirects all of your device traffic through a secure and encrypted tunnel. This means Internet service providers or sketchy parties trying to peek into your device traffic will only see a bunch of meaningless garbage.

In addition, using a VPN allows you to access content that is blocked in certain countries and can even help you save money while shopping. When you’re connected to a VPN, third parties will only see the IP address of the network you are connected to, instead of your real IP address. All said, using a VPN should be standard procedure for all forms of Internet usage, public or not.

4. Be Wary of Services Asking for Your Details in Exchange for Information/Prizes

Are you really sure this is worth your email address and personal information?

It’s common practice for companies to ask for your email address or personal details in order to “unlock” certain content or to enter a contest. On the surface, submitting a simple email address may not seem like a big deal. The truth is, marketers are collecting your information for direct marketing purposes. Worse still, they are often selling it to other companies for revenue.

When faced with these situations in the future, remember to ask yourself: How useful is this content that I’m exchanging my email for? How likely am I to win this prize? Chances are, you almost certainly won’t win anything, but the marketer will definitely have gained a new lead for future monetization. If need be, create some pseudonymous email addresses. They can be a gateway to a lot of fun.

5. Be Careful When Sharing Your Location

Let’s face it: we all love to share our current location online. Taking a vacation and checking in at that dream luxury resort? Time for a Facebook check-in (complete with cheeky status update). Enjoying a delicious buffet with your significant other? Why not share a few mouth-watering snaps (along with the restaurant’s location) on Instagram?

Understandably, it’s fun to check in and record where you’ve been. However, this makes it very easy for third parties to track your exact location, and can potentially lead to actual physical harm. For a chilling example, look no further than Pokémon Go, where unsuspecting players have been lured and mugged by armed robbers pretending to offer rare Pokémon.

6. Don’t Interact with Suspicious Emails

Even if you don’t exchange your email for online content/prizes, you’ll still receive the occasional fishy email or spam. The first (and only) thing you should do is to delete those emails. By opening the email, or clicking any links inside it, you are likely inviting malicious attacks on your device and personal privacy.

Furthermore, never reply to suspicious emails. You might be tempted to reply and ask to be removed from the mailing list, but not only will that not work, you will also have confirmed to spammers that your email address is indeed active – likely inviting more useless (or harmful) messages in the future. As for your email provider, replying to spam indicates that you actually find these emails useful, making it more likely that they will no longer be labeled as spam moving forward. In short, ignore and delete any emails in your spam folder, and click “report” for any spam emails that have not been identified as such by your email provider.

7. Use a Strong Password

By now, anyone still using “QWERTY” or “123456” as their account passwords should probably have their Internet access revoked – for their own protection. In a time when cyber thieves are getting smarter and employing more devious methods, the least you can do is to get a strong password.

For starters, do not include any personal details in your password but do use a mixture of numbers and letters as well as special characters. If you’re looking to go all the way, consider using two-factor authenticationpassword managers, and Diceware.

8. Manage Your Cookies

Cookies: some for snacking, others for tracking

Cookies: they go great with milk, come in all shapes and sizes, and are used to de-anonymize you online. Broadly speaking, websites use cookies to construct a virtual ID for you. This allows companies to track your movement and behavior across websites and feed you targeted advertisements, which are designed to bring them more revenue.

To defend yourself against cookies, you can get browser add-ons such as uBlock Origin or Privacy Badger. You might even want to use a private web browser.

9. Browse Anonymously

Speaking of private web browsers, you should use tools that allow you to use the web anonymously. For a browser that is great for privacy, try Tor (and learn more about it here). If you’re looking for tracking-free web search, use DuckDuckGo (also available as a handy app). On a related note, beware of shortened links, and don’t open them unless you’re using a private browser such as Tor.

Oh, and of course, remember to use a VPN.

10. Be Careful of What You Share Online

Finally, remember that you are the one who controls what information you share online. If you don’t share it, they can’t get a hold of it. In keeping with this idea:

  • Do not give away your real email address for online giveaways or for websites that might engage in suspicious marketing.
  • Do not share any personal data on public/insecure machines and networks.
  • Even if you are on a secure device or network, remember that anything you share online effectively becomes permanent, and can be shared or manipulated without your knowledge. A good way to see if this is happening is to Google yourself periodically.

In sum: stay savvy, stay private, and stay safe. Now that you’ve read these top ten tips, where do you stand on ExpressVPN’s Internet privacy knowledge scale?

0-2: Newbie
Sorry to break it to you, but your Internet privacy knowledge is just not up to speed! Start following these ten tips, and check out ExpressVPN’s Internet privacy guides for other useful advice!

3-5: Novice
You have a basic understanding of Internet privacy, but can still be too trusting of online sites and services. Remember to incorporate the above tips into your online habits, and beware of other online opportunities for manipulation.

6-8: Pro
Good job! You know more about staying anonymous online than most people do! Just brush up on the few tips you missed above, and you’ll soon be a master of online privacy!

9-10: Maestro
Incredible! You are a walking encyclopedia on Internet privacy! Do you have any other tips that everyone should follow? Share them in the comments below!