Why you should clear digital clutter to protect your identity

Hackers try to access personal information on your devices

To help protect you from identity theft, it may be time for digital spring cleaning of all your devices.

Every change that comes our way during the pandemic brings a new threat from identity thieves trying to take advantage of people, from stimulus checks to COVID-19 vaccines.

The increased threat of identity theft is why experts are urging people to clean up their devices to protect their personal information.

Scam artists try to rope people in using text messages and emails with links that are tempting to click, but doing so can open people up to identity theft.

READ: High tech thieves, scammers target Michigan residents

“Scammers know that more people are spending their time online and they are putting out multiple phishing attempts to try and get you to click on links,” said Laura Blankenship, director of marketing with the Better Business Bureau. “They know what’s going to entice you because they’re very intelligent, they’re very savvy and they know what people are searching for, so you have to be very careful.”

The Better Business Bureau recommends that people complete a digital spring cleaning of all their devices including phones, tablets and computers.

“You never know what’s lurking on your device, if you’ve accidentally clicked on some type of phishing link that has downloaded malware to your device,” Blankenship said.

The BBB suggests doing the following:

  • Keep your login credentials under lock; passwords for each account should be lengthy, unique and safely stored
  • Always enable the two-factor authentication on any account that offers it
  • Update the software for web browsers and operating systems
  • Back up information on your devices, especially important personal information

“It’s also taking a look at what you’re sharing online. That could be what you’re sharing on social media, or the quizzes that you’re posting, or you are unknowingly sharing information that you have as your security passwords or as your security questions,” Blankenship said. “You want to make sure that what you’re sharing online is not going to open you up to identity theft, or to a hacker getting into one of your personal accounts that then shares your personal information or your credit card, or even worse, a social security number.”

The BBB recommends cleaning up your online presence by evaluating the settings on all of your social media accounts, check the security settings and who can see your information.

READ: New warning issued about text, email scams targeting unemployment

Keep all passwords private. Look at all the apps on your device and the last time they were used.

The time you take to clear your digital clutter could make all the difference.

“I think it’s just very important to note that identity theft happens in multiple ways and these scammers are very patient, and they may gather a little bit of information on social media and then do a quick search about you and find out more information,” Blankenship said.

READ: How to avoid text message phishing scams

To help people safely dispose of electronically-stored data, the BBB suggests:

  • Know what devices to digitally shred. This includes not only phones, tablets and computers but also external hard drives, USBs, tape drives embedded flash memory, wearables, networking equipment and office tools like copiers, printers and fax machines.
  • If you have a stash of old drives and devices, remember there can still be information on them. Wipe or destroy any unneeded equipment.
  • Emptying the “trash” on your computer or another device is not enough. You have to permanently delete old files. The BBB suggests using “a program that deletes the data, ‘wipes’ it from your device and then overwrites it by putting random data in place of your information ‒ which then cannot be retrieved.”

The bureau says once a device is clean, you can sell it, trade it in, give it away, recycle it or have it destroyed. The agency wants people to know that failed drives can still share data and to be shredded, a hard drive must be chipped into small pieces. Breaking it up yourself may only delay identity thieves.

The BBB suggests using a trusted shredding company to get rid of old hard drives.

Click here for more information from the BBB.

About the Author:

Hank Winchester is Local 4's Consumer Investigative Reporter and the head of WDIV's "Help Me Hank" Consumer Unit. He works to solve consumer complaints, reveal important recalls and track down thieves who have ripped off metro Detroiters.