Identity theft, account hacking and information hijacking—they sound complex, but are really just synonyms for modern-day pickpocketing. However, they can pose a very real threat for unassuming internet users. Scams that particularly target older adults are designed to capitalize on lack of technological familiarity and naivety about the dangers of internet crime.

Just as you wouldn’t leave your front door open and unlocked with your passport, credit cards and checkbook on the front table, insufficient controls on computers and accounts leave you vulnerable to hackers looking for easy access to your personal information.

Once your device’s security has been compromised, a hacker can examine every file as well as your browsing history. A seemingly innocuous email requesting you to validate account information can result in hacking of your email and all your accounts. Gaining access to your email account can provide a hacker with enough information to make purchases from sites like Amazon, or even transfer funds from your bank account.

There are several things that you can do to protect yourself from falling victim to cyberattacks on your email and other digital accounts, such as online banking. Always use caution in setting up new accounts and selecting passwords—and keep in mind the following tips:

  • Change your email password periodically, as your email account is the most important and most vulnerable account.
  • Use different passwords for different accounts and change them regularly. If hackers get access to information for one of your accounts, they will try to use it on other accounts.
  • Use complicated passwords that don’t include your name, birthdate or other personal information that can be figured out, such as your street address. Believe it or not, the most used password is “password,” followed in popularity by “1,2,3,4,5.”
  • Verify that you’re dealing with a reputable organization that can secure the data you provide before you set up an account—especially if you’re making a purchase with a credit card, signing a petition or supporting a political candidate.
  • Never respond directly to an email requesting that you to make changes to account names or passwords. Always go the account website of the company itself to make changes.

Keeping track of a multitude of user names and passwords can seem like a daunting task. Fortunately, there are many password manager programs and apps from which you can choose that secure and protect your account login information on all of your devices. I use and recommend Dashlane. It’s free for use on a single computer and $25 per year for multiple devices.

Lastly, if you suspect that you’ve been a target of identity theft, there are organizations that can be of assistance, such as the Identity Theft Resource Center, a good tool for learning about current scams and frauds.

Good luck and safe traveling!

Gene Rubel

Gene Rubel is a tech consultant and writer based in Sandy Springs.