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US Consumers lost $8.8 billion to financial fraud last year, up 44% from 2021, according to a recent Bloomberg News article. And cybercrime costs worldwide are set to grow to $19.5 trillion by 2025.

The Federal Trade Commission notes hundreds of thousands of cases where individuals have reported losing at least $1,000, as the chart below shows.

Many of us have been affected by cyber crime, either directly or indirectly by way of a relative or friend. Knowing what steps to take to create a more secure digital environment can give you greater peace of mind and hopefully allow you to avoid being scammed.

Here’s our Top Ten List for Playing Digital Defense and Protecting Your Personal Data:

  1. Use Strong, Unique Passwords: use a different password for each online account and consider using a reputable password manager to generate and store your passwords securely.
  2. Enable Multi-Factor Authentication (MFA): this adds an extra layer of security by requiring you to provide a second form of verification (e.g. a text message code) in addition to your password.
  3. Regularly Update Software and Apps: this helps to keep your computer and phone operating systems, software applications, and antivirus programs up to date.
  4. Use Secure Connections: ensure websites you visit have a secure connection (look for “https:// and a padlock icon in the address bar).
  5. Be Cautious with Emails and Links: verify the sender’s authenticity before clicking on links or downloading attachments, and don’t provide sensitive information through email unless your email is encrypted.
  6. Limit Your Data Sharing: be mindful of information you share on social media platforms and adjust your privacy settings to limit who can see your personal information.
  7. Monitor Your Financial Statements: regularly review your bank and credit card statements for unauthorized transactions and report suspicious activity immediately.
  8. Regularly Check Your Credit Reports: request free annual credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and Transunion).
  9. Freeze Your Credit: consider freezing your credit with the credit bureaus; this makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name.
  10. Consider Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN): this provides an extra layer of protection when you access information through publicly available sources; using a VPN (provided by a vendor) makes it harder for observers to identify you and track your online movements.

Conducting an annual personal cyber safety audit is a worthwhile endeavor. It will help you determine if you’re at risk of having your identity stolen or becoming a victim of fraud. Here’s a checklist that will help you conduct your personal audit and improve the way you play digital defense.