Consumer Corner Column

May Consumer Corner: Protecting your private information in the digital age

By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

Thanks to the Internet, we can now share emails, photos and videos with friends and family members around the world instantly – even from our phones. But as easy and convenient as it is to share information online, it can be equally difficult to protect information from being shared with scammers and identity thieves.

June is Internet Safety Month, so now is a perfect time to review your online accounts and privacy settings to ensure your personal information is secure. Here are a few simple tips to keep you safe online:

  • Use antivirus and spyware protection software, and update it regularly. Also, be sure to check for updates to your computer’s operating system regularly, as these updates often contain security patches to address the latest threats from hackers.
  • Protect your passwords. Make sure your passwords are strong – especially for email accounts and sites containing financial information, like online banking or shopping sites. Including a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols can make your passwords much more difficult to hack.
  • Check your privacy settings on social network sites.Make sure the information you share on social networking sites is restricted only to people you know. Sites such as Facebook feature privacy settings that can be customized, so that different amounts of information can be shared with different groups of people.
  • Be careful what you click on. Online ads can be deceptive, and lead to malicious sites. Don’t download programs, videos or other files unless you know and trust the source of the content.
  • Read the fine print. When shopping online, be sure to read the terms and conditions, and be wary of offers that sound too good to be true.
  • Back up regularly. Copy your important files to a removable disk, such as a CD, flash drive or external hard drive, and store it in a safe place.
  • Wipe or destroy the hard drive of old computers before disposing. Even after you delete files, information could still be accessible on the hard drive. Several online resources are available to show you how to erase the files from your old hard drives.

Above all, common sense and discretion should guide all online activity. Don’t post any information online you wouldn’t want on the front page of your community newspaper, because the Internet is just as public, with a worldwide audience.

In the unfortunate event you become a victim of identity theft online, our Consumer Protection Division is available to help. Identity theft is a crime in Kansas, and we can work with your local police to investigate it and with your local county or district attorney to prosecute it. We also have resources available on our website, www.ksag.org, to help you put the pieces back together, and you can always contact us at (800) 432-2310 for more assistance.