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It seems like news of new data breaches hits the airwaves almost weekly. “If my accounts and personal information aren’t safe at my favorite retailers and restaurants, where can I shop?” you may wonder.

Sure, you could switch to using only cash, but that method comes with its own potential pitfalls such as losing your money or not having enough cash in your wallet to make a necessary purchase. Yes, you could avoid retailers that have been effected by data breaches, but how do you know that the next place you shop will be any more immune to hackers?

Though you may never be completely protected from falling victim to a data breach, there are several easy steps you can take to make it more difficult for scammers to take your information by stealing your personal information.

Part 1 – Using a Passphrase
Part 2 – How to Spot and Avoid a Skimmer
Part 3 – Staying Secure Online

 Man typing in his password

Part 1 - Using a Passphrase

Changing your passwords often and not using the same password for all accounts are two big tips for password security. However, it can be difficult to remember your passwords across multiple sites, and with the varying requirements for capital letters and numbers and symbols, creating a new password can feel like an Algebra exam.
When updating your passwords, try using a passphrase instead. Typically, a password consists of ten characters or less. Most password cracking tools become inefficient and ineffective with passwords totaling more than ten characters. But, it can be difficult to remember a random string of letters, numbers, and symbols that long. Passphrases allow you to create a longer password that you can actually remember.

When creating your passphrase, think of a series of words, a song lyric, or a phrase that will be easy to remember. Though you want this phrase to be easy for you to remember, avoid using anything that you may say often in a public setting or on social media.

Example: “There are no shortcuts to any place worth going.”

Example: “I fell into a burnin’ ring of fire.”

Also, think about how you can substitute numbers or symbols for certain letters to meet strength requirements and to make the password even more difficult to hack. In the example used above, you can swap the “no” for the numeral zero and the “s” in “shortcuts” for the dollar sign.

Example: “There are 0 $hortcuts to any place worth going.”

Tips for Using Passphrases

  1. Don’t use the same passphrase for all of your accounts – If by some chance, your passphrase is compromised on one account, your other profiles could be vulnerable as well. For added security, change your passphrases at least once per year.
  2. Look for options to use two-factor authentication – If a site allows you the option to use two methods of log-in, take advantage of the added security feature. Entering a passphrase and then using your fingerprint or entering a code that is sent to your phone will make your online accounts more secure.
  3. Use a similar approach to creating a PIN – If you are asked to create a personal identification number or PIN for a website or device, the more numbers you use, the more secure your PIN will be. If you have trouble remember a string of numbers, think of a word or phrase and convert the letters to numerals. Example: Sweet Home Ala would be the 12-digit PIN 793384663252.