Data for sale: How to check your financial information isn’t being accessed online

We live in an age where more and more services are becoming available online, and where the process of signing up for these services has never been easier. Whilst this offers greater convenience to our everyday lives than ever before, it also means your information is being held by an ever-increasing number of companies.

The growth of online services has also meant that data breaches have been accepted as a regular occurrence. Worryingly, however, it may only be when your account is actually accessed by someone other than you, or that you become a victim of identity theft, that you become aware that your information has come into the possession of a criminal.

Services such as WebDetect, set up by credit reference agency Equifax, are designed to scour the “dark web” – sites where the identity of the host and the user have been encrypted and concealed – for personal information, which can include phone numbers, card details and your National Insurance number. However, whilst services like these are useful, they are far from foolproof. It’s therefore advisable to adopt some safety routines when submitting any personal information online to ensure you’re doing as much as you can to protect yourself.

Always make sure you know exactly what you’re agreeing to when signing up to a new service. There’s usually a tick box at the end of any online application about sharing your information with third parties, so make sure you’ve ticked or unticked it as necessary to ensure you don’t give permission for this to happen.

Make sure your passwords are strong, using upper case and lower case letters as well as numbers and symbols where possible. Storing your passwords all in one place, such as a mobile phone, just makes things easier for anyone looking to access your data, so spread them out as much as possible.

Don’t respond to any unsolicited emails, and never click unknown links on sites or in emails. Limit how much information you make public on social media sites such as Facebook, many of which now have robust security settings to help you restrict what can be seen by strangers. Report any suspicious phone calls either using a different phone to the one you were called on or after ensuring you can hear a dial tone, which means the line is clear.

Checking your credit report on a regular basis means you can spot any unexpected changes or new accounts. Whilst some services charge for checking your report, others such as Noddle and Clearscore are free and provide an adequate amount of information to keep you updated.

Finally, ensure any devices you use, including tablets and phones, have security software installed, especially those you use to carry out mobile banking. Whilst it’s unfortunately never going to be possible to protect yourself completely, precautions such as this make it that much harder for your information to fall into the wrong hands.

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