5 tips to protect your connected devices and electronic identity

(BPT) - Resourceful thieves and cyber criminals continue to find new ways to hack U.S. consumers’ sensitive personal information. Dumpster diving, stolen or lost wallets and mail fraud should still be concerns, but the digital age of tablets, smartphones, PCs and Wi-Fi networks leaves people even more vulnerable than ever.

Think about it: Have you ever stored credit card information on your phone for added convenience to make payments in a checkout lane? Do you ever store passwords in apps to transfer funds between accounts? And what’s to keep hackers from accessing a wireless network you check your email on while you’re grabbing a quick cup of coffee?

”More than 15.4 million people a year will experience identity theft, with an average loss of more than $1,000,” said Jane Li, Mercury Insurance’s director of product management. “When one access point closes due to added levels of security, cyber attackers find another. Insurance companies like Mercury provide services that allow homeowners and renters to enjoy the convenience of accessing their connected devices at home and on-the-go, while also helping to protect customers from the potentially devastating effects of criminal infiltration, cyber extortion and identity theft.”

Keeping aware of the latest schemes and ensuring members of your household, friends and others you care about have the right tools helps stop criminals in their tracks.

Following are five do’s and don’ts to help protect your connected devices, as well as your electronic identity, from hackers.

  1. Do power down your devices. This disables the internet connection, cutting off access to any personal information stored on your computer, tablet or phone. Unattended machines, especially if you’re asleep or you leave them at home while on vacation, are easy targets for hackers.
  2. Don’t connect to unsecured wireless networks. Information accessed on an open network, including email passwords and sensitive bank information, is fair game for hackers. Don’t make their jobs easier. Turn off Wi-Fi access on your devices unless it’s a password-protected network you trust.
  3. Do monitor your children’s device usage. It’s a good idea to limit use of computers, tablets and phones to public areas within the home like the living room or kitchen. This makes it easier for parents to keep an eye on who their kids are communicating with, especially on social media or gaming sites, to help prevent the sharing of sensitive information like full names, addresses or other things that can be used for identity theft or other potentially dangerous activities.
  4. Don’t discard important paperwork without shredding it. If it has your name and address, it presents an opportunity for thieves to take advantage and open an account using your information. Remember to shred expired insurance documents, vehicle registrations, bills, loan pre-qualifications and other paperwork that would allow someone to call in pretending to be you. Check your credit reports at least twice a year to ensure all accounts opened in your name are valid.
  5. Do install recommended updates. Smartphone, computer, tablet and smart TV manufacturers, among other providers of connected devices, offer periodic software updates to protect against potential security breaches. Chances are, if an update is recommended, hackers have already discovered a way to access your personal property and information, so keep your software up-to-date.

Li recommends homeowners and renters speak with their local insurance agent to learn more about the endorsements they may be able to add to existing policies to help safeguard their finances if their identities are compromised or connected devices are attacked.

“It can be daunting to try to regain your financial footing if a criminal takes advantage of you,” said Li. “Insurance exists to help protect consumers from unexpected events and, in this case, it’s better to be safe than sorry.”

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