12 Ways to Protect Your Identity at Work
You’ve got your personal life covered, but you have to watch out for identity theft at work, too. Here’s how to watch your back.
12 Ways to Protect Your Identity at Work
In this digital age, we’ve all become accustomed to the data breaches and hacks that seem to endanger our personal data daily.
We take steps in our personal lives to keep our data safe, like avoiding weird emails, not randomly clicking on links and never ever replying to that Nigerian prince offering us a million bucks — no matter how nice he seems.
But we sometimes forget these important tips when we’re at work. What’s more, our workplaces can also leave workers vulnerable to identity theft in ways exclusive to them, so we need to take special care when handling our personal data at the office.
What Is Identity Theft?
Identity theft keeps the Federal Trade Commission very busy, as it is the most common consumer complaint each year. But what is this mysterious form of theft that we hear so much about?
Simply put, identity theft is when a criminal steals your personal information and uses it as his or her own. This information allows thieves to get jobs, identification, credit cards, loans, bank accounts and more in your name.
This can result in damage to your credit score, fees under your name, or worst of all, a criminal record you could spend years trying to clear up.
Why Worry at Work?
Work is where many of us spend the majority of our waking hours.
We toil at our 9-to-5s just waiting for the time we can get up and fly out the door before the boss man comes by and asks us to work a little OT. With work also comes a level of comfort, as oftentimes the office feels like a second home.
As a second home, workers sometimes let a bit of their personal lives flow into the office. Generally, you’re okay, but if your company makes one wrong hire or its network gets hacked, you could suddenly be the victim of identity theft.
We all like to think our workplaces have safeguards to protect against this, but cracks exist where hackers and untrustworthy people can slip through.
Here are a few tips on avoiding identity theft at work.
Avoid Sensitive Data
Sometimes we’re tempted to check out personal stuff at work, but this can expose you to data breaches or snooping coworkers who are less than honest.
If possible, avoid doing anything not business related at work. It’s the best way to prevent your personal information from getting stolen. Plus, it likely keeps you in line with your company’s digital policies.
Watch What You Print
Admit it. You know you’ve printed personal things on the company’s dime. Look, we all do it, but you have to do it carefully.
First, you don’t want to overdo it because that could lead to a sudden lack of employment. But you also need to be careful with what you print and where you leave it.
If you just print out directions to the nearest burrito joint for lunch because you forgot your phone at home, no biggie. But if you’re printing out paystubs, W2s or other documents with your personal information on it, you need to make sure you grab it off the printer immediately and hang around for a few seconds after it prints to make sure you didn’t accidentally print too many.
If someone gets their hands on this info, they can quickly make your financial life a mess.
Switch to 21st Century Xeroxing
Just like printing at work, we’re all guilty of making the occasional copy at work.
Maybe your son’s school needs a copy of his birth certificate. Or maybe your mortgage company needs a copy of your license. Most companies won’t throw a fit when you use their copy machines, but you have to be careful.
If you’re in a hurry or just have something else on your mind, you may forget about the original documents you just made a copy of. You can avoid this issue by simply not making copies at work.
Instead, just snap a picture of the document with your phone and upload it to your computer, then print it out at home. This avoids the potential of leaving important documents where thieves can potentially get ahold of them.
Ignore the “Reply” Button
It’s not uncommon to get an email from human resources or your boss asking for some sensitive data. But before you bang that “Reply” button and send your life’s story, take some precautions.
First, take a look at the email address. Is it identical to the normal corporate email address your boss or HR department emails you from? If not, do not reply to that email, as it could be a spoof address.
In fact, just to be safe, if you’re unsure start a new email to your coworker (using your company’s address book) with “Re:” then the original subject in the subject line and reply to the email that way.
Doing it like this eliminates the possibility of a hacker creating a spoof email address that looks like your boss’s or the HR department’s just to get your personal info.
Don’t Click on Just any Link
Another quick way hackers get your data is through spoof links in an email.
In these attacks, hackers hope you’ll click on the link and enter your data on a fake page that looks just like the real deal, like a fake PayPal or banking page.
Once you enter your info, the hacker downloads it, and you’re none the wiser until there’s suddenly a $100,000 loan in your name.
We are generally good at not doing this in our personal email, but we tend to let our guards down at work. Check out the link and make sure it is the right one. And if you’re unsure about a link, manually type the address you’re familiar with into the browser or Google it.
If you happen to print one too many of something or have no need for a sensitive personal document you printed, don’t just toss it in the trash. Doing so is just asking for a dumpster-diving identity thief to snag your info.
Instead of tossing it, your company should have a cross-cut shredder that will allow you to grind those important papers into confetti.
If your company doesn’t have a shredder, either bring in your own or bring your documents home to shred.
Protect Your Screen
Use a shield to keep prying eyes from catching a glimpse of what’s on your screen.
Screen protectors use careful shading to allow only someone who is looking straight at the monitor to see the data on the screen. If someone cruises by at an angle, all they see is black.
This can help prevent a shady coworker or anyone else who stops by the office from sitting a few seats away from you and looking over your shoulder at any personal information you might have on your screen.
Tether to Your Mobile Phone
Some companies allow you to use your personal laptop in lieu of a corporate computer. In these cases, you may feel the need to check on your bank account or fill out personal data while you’re on break.
You have to keep in mind that as long as you’re on the corporate Wi-Fi connection, you are subject to whatever data breaches the company may experience or some sneaky IT guy skimming info.
If you can’t do this sensitive surfing elsewhere, tether your laptop to your mobile phone and use that as your internet connection. Most mobile plans now come with this feature for free, so take advantage of it and the safety it provides.
Clear Your Desk Each Night
When you leave at night, is your desk a collage of documents? Probably. And many of those documents could contain sensitive corporate or personal information.
Even if everyone in your office is squeaky clean and would never steal your identity, you likely have no clue about the cleaning crew or who does the nightly maintenance.
It’s likely many people you don’t know have access to virtually every office and desk in the building, and they can easily swipe your documents when no one’s around.
So, before you leave each night, pick up those random papers and stick them in a locked drawer, shred them or take them home to avoid this issue.
Always Lock Your Computer
An unlocked, unattended computer is like an open bank vault to an identity thief.
In just a few quick keystrokes, a thief can swipe tons of sensitive digital information that can get you in a whole world of hurt.
All Macs and PCs have quick shortcuts to lock them when you leave, so take a second and lock it up, even if you’re going to be gone for just a few minutes.
Pick Strong Passwords
Ever since personal computers have been a thing, experts have warned against using “Password123” or “Password” as your password.
Still, to this very day, people insist on using these easy-to-decode passwords then wonder how they got hacked.
Pick strong passwords – ones even stronger than companies recommend.
Use a password-management system, like Dashlane or LastPass. These systems will choose super-strong passwords for you and save them so you don’t have to remember all those numbers and symbols.
Then, just make one very strong password for the management system, and you’re good to go.
Monitor Your Credit
There are many ways for people to steal your information at work. Some you simply cannot protect against.
So, constantly keeping an eye on your credit report is sometimes the only surefire way to protect yourself.
When someone steals your identity, it’s generally to take out loans and credit cards in your name. If you always keep a close eye on your credit, you’ll be aware of any new accounts opened in your name within days of them being opened.
If you come across an account you don’t recognize, dispute it before it starts doing damage to your credit.