Before you Shop Online this Year Read this
As I listened to details of the recent cybercrime story at retailer Target which affected customers at over 3,000 stores on 60 minutes this week, I realized the critical importance of having a personal online protection plan. Not only are 97% of all retailers subject to cybercrime, but also individuals using their credit cards, Pay pal account , Google pay, Apple pay and even payment through services such as Chase Online Pay to purchase gifts this Holiday season in danger.
This danger is two-fold. First, there is the danger of having your money stolen and your credit card information stolen. Second, is that of having your online identity stolen. The theft of your online identity can play a part in devastating your online reputation. It isn’t just a credit card number that a thief has his hands on, but it may well be your very professional brand online that you may have spent a career building. And he or she can tarnish it in a second. If you think of your own online identity as a personal brand that carries weight and you as a consumer understand the role that reputation plays online, you will understand the importance of protecting your own individual online identity.
Think for a minute of a small business who lives or dies by Yelp reviews. Imagine someone stealing your identity and creating a disparaging blog about your business and then a fake LinkedIn profile of you all at the same time. It happens, unfortunately. And when you are a business leader, the pain and suffering can be tremendous. In a 2014 e-marketer study on the behaviors of corporate decision makers and the CEO, over 68% of the study respondents cited the CEO online brand and his or her reputation as the key to their company’s final buying decision. So what can you do to protect your online identity and personal brand? Here are 5 immediate steps you can follow:
#1: Verify your accounts with YOUR authorized sign in
All too often, people are careless with the e-mail accounts or social media accounts they use to register and sign in to services. These services can be anything from an e-mail address to an analytics account to a web hosting service to a bank account to an Amazon account. Your best protection is to always register for any online services where you will provide either your identification, financial information or both with your own personal e-mail that is uncompromised. You should also make sure that it is you that confirms all verifications of accounts. You should refrain from using a simple, known or similar password for multiple accounts. These passwords should be secured privately and changed often.
#2: Keep your business and personal information separate
Any good accountant will tell you to keep your business finances separate from personal. This is the same when managing your online identity on social media sites like Facebook, Google Plus, Twitter, and YouTube and so on. If you are a business professional, you should invest in both a business profile and a personal profile whenever possible. The business content and the personal content should have a strong divide. Recently I discussed the upcoming Facebook at Work versus LinkedIn with colleagues on LinkedIn and took bets on any interest in converting business information over to a known personal platform and almost unanimously I received an overwhelming NO. And for good reason. Allowing strangers online to find out everything about you on a personal level, such as your friends, your address, your hobbies, your whereabouts, will inevitably lead to hackers who can use information against you. And guess what? When you are a victim of identity theft, it directly hurts you on the professional front. A good rule of thumb when accepting new fans in social media is to first consider whether the person who wants to join in is a person you know or a stranger and then set rules of acceptance and sharing. You should always retain controls over your business brand online. If it is for business, keep it that way.
#3: Keep yourself secure on any device
Everyone these days uses multiple devices and even public devices, such as those at Internet cafes and libraries. There are several things you can do to keep your online identity and personal brand secure on any device. If you are working from a device you own, make sure that you have the appropriate malware protection, intrusion detection and firewall protection on, that it is active and frequently updated. Whether you own a PC or a MAC, you need to keep your device protected. Make sure your have an email program that offers strong SPAM protection and that you never respond to SPAM or download any SPAM related attachment.
All mobile phones and tablets offer password, fingerprint and swipe protection. As with password security, use it, change it often and tell no one. If you use someone else’s device or a public device connected to the Internet, always make sure to logout and then erase all session information when you are done. Even with your own devices, it is smart to be logged out when you are away from your device. Turn off your phone when not in use, especially when you are in a public place.
#4: Maintain a positive image in Social Media
When it comes to maintaining a strong, solid reputation online as a business leader, you must be aware of what is being said about you and what is being SEEN related to your online personal brand. One of the best actions you can take is to control what imagery of you is being displayed on sites like Facebook, Google Plus. YouTube, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. You can do a simple search in Google Images under your name and start to see what is on the Internet. You first line of protection is to find images tagged with your name and for those that do not strengthen or support your online brand, request to have removed either from the profile page owner , site owner or both. As a rule, whenever you are having your photo taken, you need to ask whether that is going to be posted online and then take control of it. By setting up personal profiles with personal e-mail addresses separate from business with a business email in social media, you will start to have a resolution for the issue of personal pictures associated with your business image online.
Never mind that these social networks are highly vulnerable to attacks. In 2013, a LinkedIn hack resulted in over 6.4 million passwords being stolen and 250,000 Twitter accounts in the same year. To protect your social accounts, you can deploy protection like two-factor authentication or services such as Alter-Ego. On a final note, it is important that you start to think about what NOT to say in social media, such as where you are on vacation, where you made your last purchase and so on.
#5: Buying Online, ecommerce and your personal brand
It is Holiday season. Make sure you are shopping on Internet safe e-commerce sites. What this means is to make sure that the site is using HTTPS during the purchase process, that you have reviewed the site in Google for legitimacy and that you can contact someone real for customer service. Also, be wary of pop up promotions and other links that you can click on that go to sites outside the shopping site you are browsing.
Protecting Your Online Brand is No Joke
If you are not careful, you could be the victim of online theft. Stealing your identity and then using that identity to make repeat purchases can potentially destroy your finances, if even temporarily. What is worse is when your online brand and your online life is stolen. You may have all of your important business files and personal digital images online. If you get attacked or hacked all of this can go away. So start to use caution when enjoying the ease of e-commerce shopping, the joys of social media and the major opportunities associated with online marketing.
I am giving away a free download of my personal branding online guide to the first 10 Holiday shoppers who subscribe to my Blog from this article: