Remember back in the day when the worst thing that could happen to you was forgetting your locker combination and you’d be late for gym class? Well, the stakes might be a little higher, but the challenge is the same: How to keep your private information private.
ID theft is a very real threat. In fact, ID theft complaints are the number-one complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, accounting for 26 percent of all complaints and accounting for billions of dollars in loss (2007 and 2008 numbers).
While your identity can be stolen through the postal service or by swiping your wallet, by far your greatest exposure is online. And when you’re an online businessperson, that risk is even higher; not only your personal information is available, but your professional information, too. Thankfully, there are a number of low- and high-tech options for keeping track of your passwords and user names. Here are my picks:
Low-tech: You can purchase “password journals” from stationery stores, or just create your own from an inexpensive spiral notebook. On the plus side: This method is easy and inexpensive, is portable, and is perfect for technically challenged individuals. The problem is that if you don’t have your notebook with you, you don’t have the information – and if you lose it, you’re in trouble!
Mid-tech: Start a computer file with all your password and user names in it, like an Excel spreadsheet. You can save this on your desktop, or upload it to a file-sharing service like Dropbox or Google Docs. The upside: It’s free, portable, and (if you use the file-sharing service) available online from remote computers. The drawbacks: Hackable. If someone somehow accesses your spreadsheet, they have your world at their fingertips.
High-tech. Online password storage and management services are big business. Check out Roboform.com, KeePass.com, and LastPass.com. These services also offer premium services that will generate, store, and even fill in your passwords for you. Plus side: The safest method for managing passwords online. Downside: you have to pay.
Whatever you choose, any of these methods are more secure than using the default “password” or “12345” as your password for everything from your bank account to your Twitter account. Don’t wait until someone figures out your combination and steals your lunch money before you start protecting yourself.