Safeguarding your information online can protect you from identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft affects millions of people each year.

Here’s how to keep your personal information secure:

1. Up Your Password Game

Strong passwords include 12 characters, upper- and lower-case letters, numbers, and special characters. It’s always a great idea to enable two-factor authentication – You’ll want to make sure you create different usernames and passwords for each application. If a company is breached, your information gets exposed. Criminals tend to use those credentials to attempt to gain access to other websites.

Passwords should not contain easily obtainable information such as a spouse, child, or pet’s name. You can use a password generator or password database to store passwords. They will generate a secure password for each site.

2. Practice Safe Web Browsing

Sensitive browsing, such as banking or online shopping, should only be done using secure networks like your home Wi-Fi or cell phone network. Public networks like coffee shops, hotels, and public spaces are rife with fraudsters that will intercept and steal your data.

Always use multi-factor authentication when available. Most websites allow you to utilize one-time codes that are sent via text message to your cell phone in conjunction with a username and password to access their sites. This makes it harder for criminals to use stolen credentials.

3. Think Before You Click

The easiest way for criminals to circumvent security controls is to trick you into clicking on a link or downloading an attachment in an email. Never respond and never engage with fake emails. Instead, verify the message out of band. Pick up the phone and give them a call. Go to their website. Send them a letter. Call the number on the back of your card. Any reputable bank will never call you and ask for your account number or your social security number.

4. Maintain Your Computers

Keeping your systems up to date helps deter criminals. Fraudsters target out-of-date devices because they are more easily penetrable.

Use anti-virus and firewalls for an added layer of protection. There are anti-virus programs are available for free for computers and smartphones. A program can be downloaded on home computers and mobile devices. Firewalls are embedded in most operating systems like Windows and enabled by default.

Always back up your information in the event it is lost or stolen. A backup may be your only lifeline to restore critical information. Many providers such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft give users free online storage.

5. Use Discretion

You must be your own security officer. Review your online accounts and credit reports regularly for changes or discrepancies. Many fraudulently opened credit cards and accounts are opened for 30 days or more on average before the victim is aware there has been a breach of their information. If someone has accessed your computer remotely, consider taking it to a retailer or other information technology professional and have them close your account.

You have the power to say NO. You are in control of what information you share. If you are uncomfortable providing information, don’t reveal anything. No reputable company or entity will ask for personally identifiable information over the phone, by email, or through text message. When in doubt, call the company using known avenues like a web search to verify authenticity before giving out any information.

“The bad guys want to get in your head and make you think you must act now and give that information,” Lou Palumbo, CISA, CISM, CRISC, CISSP, Senior Vice President, Chief Information Officer at NexTier Bank said.

6. Review Your Credit Report Annually

It’s best to review your credit report regularly. This helps catch fraud and identity theft early. If you suspect you are a victim of fraud or identity theft, contact the credit bureaus and put a freeze on your accounts. This protects fraudsters from opening new accounts.

The three most common credit bureaus are Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax. You are entitled to one free annual credit report through the Federal Government. For more information visit:

NexTier Bank, N.A. does not endorse or guarantee the products, information, or recommendations provided by linked sites. NexTier Bank is not liable for any failure of products, services, or information provided through third-party sites. Third-party linked sites may have privacy policies that differ from NexTier Bank, and linked sites may or may not provide the same level of security.