With all the headlines about data breaches and hacks, have you been thinking about your own identity and personal data lately? If not, you definitely should be.
It seems like almost weekly now, we hear about a new data breach or yet another behemoth consumer facing organization like Target or Home Depot being forced to "clean up" after some sort of enormous security breach.
Each of these incidents leaves thousands to millions of people vulnerable to their identities being stolen, accounts being hacked and lives being severely interrupted if not (financially) ruined.
And with every headline looms the underlying question, “was MY information compromised, disseminated and out there for all the world to exploit?”
Unfortunately, the likely answer to that question is a resounding, “yes” at this point.
Because of this ridiculous and ever-increasing threat, the intensity of the identity protection/data security landscape is getting more complicated even as it becomes ever more important to protect our own identity and data.
And for most people, the prospect of wrapping one's mind around it is just too daunting to even begin to address.
But, it's important to understand that this real unraveling of our personal information security indeed forces us (as end-user consumers) to address it.
We have to learn how to simultaneously play both offense and defense with our data and our identity. So, as a consumer, you MUST start paying attention to this and fast.
This is the entire purpose for this post: to create a quick start resource with both the tools and the recommendations you need to begin.
The most obvious and recent case in point of our precious identities being stolen and potentially used nefariously would be Equifax.
One of the premier credit rating agencies, that has like, everybody’s most precious data, has now been hacked.
This unbelievable turn event has resulted in the personal identities of millions being compromised.
Yes, both yours and mine were likely in that body of data that was stolen.
But you may be asking, what does this really mean to you?
What are the potential consequences? What can you do about it?
Well, one of the most important things it means is that our names, addresses, social security numbers, bank account numbers, investment account numbers, loan numbers (if I had any, that is) and other Personally Identifiable Information (or PII as it’s known in the industry) is out there for the consumption and use by people who mean to do us no good.
What are the consequences? There are many and, while hey may not be immediate, they can be devastating.
It's your move. And your opponent is REALLY good.
Okay, so hopefully I've gotten you concerned enough that this is a real threat to you. I've explained the "why". Now, I want to give you the "how to".
Again, you have to start doing something about this now and there is some great news for those who take a step in the "proactive" direction right now.
Just remember this: the key to this identity and data protections stuff is to try and stay two steps ahead of the average identity thief/hacker.
It's still not actually that hard to do if you just take a few small steps now.
Thieves and hackers have PLENTY of low hanging fruit to go after.
Believe it or not, there are STILL people who use EASILY hackable passwords like, “password123” as their password, and sometimes use the same easily hackable password for more than one account.
I'm going to begin presenting each of these tools by first presenting the category of identity protection/data security it addresses.
Then I will share the details of the tool that I personally use and find to be exceptional at it's given job. Certainly, there are other tools, but these are the ones I know, use, like AND trust.
Also, I will disclose to you that the following recommendations are products/services that I am an affiliate for.
This means that, if you click on the provided links and use, opt-in for or make a purchase of, this blog will receive a benefit at no extra cost to you. As I've said before, I never recommend anything that I don't use, love and have 100% confidence in.
If you have further questions about this, you can read my full disclosure policy here.
With that, here are the 4 MUST HAVE tools.
To ensure you’re not completely hosed by the Equifax data breach and others’ data security ineptitudes. I will go into detail about my own personal identity theft nightmare that happened back in 2011.
It was terrible, but would have been MUCH worse had I not had an identity theft insurance policy in place. I know, like, trust and use Identity Force as my identity theft insurance provider.
Here's a link to their program:
Identity Force saved me probably 100 hours of "recovery" work when my identity was compromised (see the "My Unfortunate Identity Theft" story below). The recovery work is really the most important element of the ID theft policy and I'll explain why in a little more detail.
Whichever provider you choose for ID theft insurance, make sure that there is an "administrative" or "recovery" element to the policy. This is important because with ID theft, you're rarely going to be on the hook for the charges a thief makes.
Rather, the real nightmare is in the cleanup, i.e. calling all the credit rating agencies, dealing with taxing authorities, credit card companies, banks, etc. to get the mess cleaned up.
The disruption to your life in the form of the hours you'll spend on the cleanup will be more than you can imagine.
Almost all of the ID theft insurance policies I've seen have "monitoring" or some element of checking your credit bureau profiles (Equifax, TransUnion and Experian) for fraudulent activity.
While this is important, you can (and should) actually be doing this yourself using a free service like Credit Sesame.
Just keep in mind that the REAL gold of an ID theft policy is the hours upon hours and headaches it will save you by having that administrative/recovery element in the policy.
This means you'll have an actual team of folks (like I did) that will do all the admin cleanup for you.
I'm speaking from experience when I tell you that an ID theft policy with a great admin recovery feature is worth its weight in gold during your ID theft nightmare and Identity Force is the best.
Have you ever tried to count how many accounts you have that require a username and password?
I would challenge you to pause and just start making a list. It’s probably going to take longer than you think.
It actually took me a couple of months to write everything down once I decided I was going to tackle this whole password management thingy
A Password Management/Randomization tool like Dashlane allows you to capture, record, change and even randomize your passwords for ALL of your accounts.
Dashlane is the tool I use for this and love it!
Dashlane is a tool you use to track, change and randomize your passwords, in in one easy-to-use robotic platform.
Between my personal and business accounts, web logins, etc, I have over 200 unique logins and passwords.
I tried for a while to track my usernames, passwords, account numbers, etc. on a spreadsheet and it was just mind numbingly difficult.
Not too long after that I started researching password managers and I tried a couple of different ones and did a TON of research. At the culmination of all my research, I landed on a product called Dashlane about two years ago.
Dashlane was an excellent point of entry into this process because:
1) It’s scandalously easy to use.
2) It’s free (there is also a premium version that allows you to sync across multiple devices, but the free version is perfectly fine for most applications).
3) It’s secure (in all my research, I learned that their competitor, LastPass has been hacked, so I steered away from them). Even if they are "hacked" your passwords do not reside anywhere in Dashlane's database, rather they reside on your own hardware.
4) I’m able to use the same instance for both my personal as well as work passwords (which number well over 200 now!).
So this is my password challenge to you: at the very least start making a list of all the websites, banks, social media platforms that you have accounts with and start making a record of your usernames and passwords.
Then, go download Dashlane and make your life a ton easier AND your usernames/passwords much more secure.
For more information, go to a blogpost I wrote specifically about Dashlane:
If your financial world is anything like mine, you have over 30 online-accessible financial accounts and you are constantly checking them. That means that you’re spending loads of time typing in an individual username and password for each one. Ugh!
The ridiculous amount of time it takes might even be discouraging you from checking those accounts as often as you need to, right? Not good.
AND, your online roster of accounts (like mine) may consists of: bank, savings, brokerage, investments, 401k, 401k Rollovers, Roth IRA, Precious Metals, HSAs, etc. It’s a long and ever-growing list and I personally check all of mine daily.
I know, it may sound extreme, but let me explain why I do this.
Before I started using Personal Capital, it would take me over 30 minutes to login to each account, check all my balances, verify activity and make sure there weren’t any shenanigans from would-be hackers or fraudsters. It was laborious to say the least.
So, Personal Capital is a tool that allows you to see all of your accounts as part of one platform with one login. The benefit? Well, I'll give you a very recent example to illustrate.
Yesterday I logged into my Personal Capital account and was able to see, among all of my accounts, that there was an unrecognized charge from a clothing retailer in London!
Ugh, I haven't been to London in almost 10 years.
Obvious fraud! As a result of this, I was able to contact my bank and take care of it immediately.
Make sure to check your accounts every day!
Personal Capital - To monitor all of your accounts daily in one centralized and secure platform. Sure, your Identity Theft Insurance company is likely monitoring this as well, but it is also something you should be doing yourself, daily.
I’ve actually been able to catch errant charges on a debit card by using Personal Capital. It enabled me to contact the bank immediately and report the fraud. Very helpful!
You can use this link to sign up for Personal Capital. I highly recommend you check it out. It will, at the very least, make this part of your life a little easier. Plus, it’s free!
You hear stories a lot about people's data being compromised on public wifi networks or even on their home networks.
Another issue you hear a lot about is how online marketers are able to track our location, preferences and other even more personal information just by knowing our computers' or smartphones' unique IP address.
This is why you must start using a VPN or Virtual Private Network.
What is a VPN and what does it do? A VPN hides and anonymizes your IP address and browsing from the prying eyes of hackers every time you're online. It's really just that simple.
A VPN give you a "virtual" IP address and makes it look like you're in a completely different location (even a different country) than you actually are.
Nord VPN is the tool I use and it has been absolutely great.
I'm able to use it on all of my wife's and my computers and phones and it works fantastically well. Here are some relevant points Nord VPN addresses:
1) Total Data Security - Whatever data you send (personal passwords or credit cards data), whatever WiFi you use, you are 100% secure. Nord VPN encrypts your personal data protecting it from prying third-parties and hackers.
2) Absolute Data Privacy - Stay anonymous and untracked on any website from any location. Nord VPN protects your privacy changing your physical location (IP address). So websites, hackers, and advertisers can’t track you.
3) Uncompromising Speed - Thanks to Nord VPN's technologies you can be sure you won’t slow down. The platform improves user experience and internet speed. Plus our super fast VPN servers all over the world ensure the best connections speed.
4) Up To 5 Devices - Pay for 1 get 4 for FREE! With one subscription you can use Nord VPN on up to 5 Devices. You can use any device (desktop, tablets, mobile phones) and any platform (macOS, iOS, Android, Windows, Linux).
5) 30 Day Trial & Money Back - Nord VPN offers a FREE trial for the first 30 days to make your choice before spending a penny. In any case, you can always get your money back with their 30-day money back guarantee.
It happened to me and it can happen to you. Be prepared!
In August of 2011 I received a rather ominous envelope from "The Georgia Tax Tribunal".
As if the sender's name wasn't alarming enough, the contents of the package were even more disturbing.
The enclosed letter informed me that I owed the State of Georgia over $3000 in back taxes due to something, something, late, something, something...
I honestly don't even remember the reason why.
I just remember immediately going into freakout mode. WHAT?!!! How in the world could I owe over $3000 in back taxes and why in the world would it be coming from a TRIBUNAL?
Am I going to be executed or something?
This was the beginning of about a 6 month nightmare that fortunately, ended well despite the weeping and gnashing of teeth involved in the process.
The moral of the story: start doing this stuff now! It's likely your identity will be stolen at some point. It's not a scare tactic, it's just the truth.
Resolve that you're going to at least do one of these immediately.
Don’t be overwhelmed. And if you are, just start with one and add as you are able. Two of the four are free, so there’s almost no excuse to “git er dunn”.
I also wanted to say for the purposes of being realistic that, even though all these tools are absolutely necessary in this environment, remember that nothing in the digital world is 100% secure.
That’s just a reality. BUT that doesn’t mean that you can’t protect yourself and be WAY ahead of the guy that's still using "password123" as his key to the kingdom.
Remember, you only have to be faster than the slowest gazelle in a cheetah chase! AND, these four tools will put you WAY out front!
So just get started and keep the momentum going.
Don't hesitate to reach out if you have ANY questions about ANY of these tools. Like I said before, I don't recommend anything that I don't 100% use and love.
0. Stop All Retirement Investing (Until Step 4)2. Starter Emergency Fund of $10003. Eliminate Debts Smallest To Largest (a.k.a The Debt Snowball)4. Full Emergency Fund of 3-6+ Months’ Expenses5. Invest A Minimum of 15% Income Into Retirement Accounts (and increase savings rate to 50%+ if possible)6. College Funding (if applicable)7. Pay Off The Home Mortgage8. Build Wealth, Serve, Be Ridiculously Generous And Go FI (Financial Independence)!