Tips for securely managing online accounts

In a previous post I gave examples of how I was given access to other people’s personal information because they used the wrong email address on their accounts. (Read the full story here.) Every piece of personal information in an online account is a piece of information at risk of being shared through mistakes or malicious acts. Creating these accounts is difficult to avoid for avid Internet users, but here are some ways to prevent your information from getting into the wrong hands.

  • Know your email address. It sounds basic, but if you’ve changed accounts recently you are more likely to mistype it. If you have to look it up that’s better than guessing and making a mistake.
  • Don’t cut and paste in the verification field. The reason a lot of sites want you to type your email twice is to make sure you didn’t mistype it the first time. Cutting and pasting negates that check. (If your email is so long or complicated as to be annoying to type two times you should probably get another email address.)
  • Don’t create accounts you don’t need. Sadly this option is becoming rare, but if can proceed without creating an account do so.
  • Re-read your form before clicking “okay.” Proofreading before you submit not only prevents you from using the wrong email address but also having something shipped to the wrong address or ordering the wrong quantity.
  • Get rid of accounts you don’t need. If you only plan to order from a site once but they require setting up an account, delete it when the package is delivered. If there are other accounts you rarely use get rid of them as well. If you need to use that site again, just sign up for a new account.
  • Limit the data stored in the account. Some sites give you the choice to not save your credit card number. If given that choice use it. Otherwise go back and remove the details later. Yes, it is a pain to re-enter your information every time, but it is more of a pain to deal with identity theft and other forms of fraud. Plus, it may help you to make fewer impulse buys.
  • Select the most secure password reset option. If you get locked out of your account you’ll want a way to get back in, but you don’t want anyone else to be able to get in that way. The option to have password reset credentials sent to your cell phone is generally good assuming you maintain control of your phone. Security questions tend to be the least desirable since honest answers can be researched and lies are often forgotten. The most common option of sending a reset link to the email on record is only good if you protect the password for that email. Don’t reuse it or leave it logged in on shared computers. If you are using Gmail you should activate dual-factor verification.

In addition to these online account specific items the information security tips listed here are will also help to keep your personal data private and secure.

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