Identity theft rose in 2012 to the highest levels since 2009, with identity thieves making off with a total of $21 billion, according to Javelin Strategy. Many consumers fall victim to identity theft when corporate data is breached, as in the recent Target scandal. However, weak passwords can also allow identity thieves to guess an individual’s personal information and commit fraud. This year, take the simple step of protecting your identity by ensuring that all of your passwords follow best practices.
Signs that your online password is too weak
A weak password can easily be guessed by another person. Thieves can also use password deciphering tools to make quick work of unscrambling your password and stealing elements of your identity. Common signs that the password you have chosen is not strong include:
Your password is less than 8 characters
Your password is all lowercase or uppercase, and uses only letters or numbers
Your password is your birth date, your child’s name, your spouse’s name, your pet’s name, or something else meaningful to you, yet easily guessed
You have used a word from the dictionary as your password, even if you have intentionally misspelled the word to try to make the password stronger
You have not changed your password in years
You have spelled a common word backwards
You have used a sequence of numbers —123456 — or a string of letters — abcdefg — as your password
You keep a written file that contains all your passwords
Best practices for creating a strong password
Creating a strong password for all accounts is a great first step toward keeping your identity safe. When combined with another way to protect your credit, such as Lifelock’s identity protection services, it can keep your personal and business information safe from identity thieves.
Best practices for a strong password include:
Use a different password for every website, email account and social network you use.
Change your password on a regular basis, ideally every three months.
Keep your password private and do not write it down anywhere unless you are encrypting the file where it is written down.
Never share your password with colleagues, with customer service representatives or with others, even with family members. Do not keep a password hint, such as “Jane’s birthday” on your computer or workstation as this can help someone guess your password.
Combine uppercase letters, lowercase letters, special characters and numbers in your password.
Avoid using a word you can find in the dictionary. Combine words instead or create an imaginary word.
Use a password generator to automatically generate strong passwords for you, and have the passwords remembered by your web browser on your behalf or stored in an encrypted password utility.
Use a simple sentence as the starting point for your password, then remove spaces between words and vary case, add special characters and incorporate numbers as appropriate. For example, the sentence “Today is my birthday” becomes “Todayismybirthday.” Then, customize it as “T0Day!$MYB1rtHD@Y” to ensure that a thief will not be able to easily guess your password.