The long answer: Whether you’re in the car, at work or in the comfort of home, you’re likely connected to technology that’s collecting data about you—or you’re using it to consciously share that data yourself.

“When you talk about what is your digital identity, it’s basically everything you share, the activities you do online and the information that belongs to you,” says Gopal Padinjaruveetil, chief information security officer for AAA. “It creates a picture of who you are.”

In addition to general information like your date of birth, email address and phone number, there are more sensitive parts of your digital identity: your credit card and bank account numbers, health information and much more—in simpler terms, it’s anything you don’t want others to know.

Here are some common examples of your digital identity—and tips to help keep each one safe:

Passwords

Passwords are at the core of your digital identity. That’s because almost every site you regularly use on the internet requires you to create a password—resulting in more and more opportunities for your information to be compromised. So it’s important to ensure your passwords are protected and strong.

Don’t share your login credentials with others. Here’s another tip: If it’s a one-time-only share (such as loaning a friend your password to watch your new favorite movie), change the password immediately after.

Never check “remember my password.” This is especially true for devices you share with others, such as at the library or even at home. Padinjaruveetil recommends only saving passwords on strictly private devices, but it’s still best to weigh out what’s more important: convenience or security.

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Use a passphrase over a password. Padinjaruveetil recommends passphrases because they’re typically longer than passwords and harder for a computer to guess, especially when the passphrase is comprised of random, yet meaningful, words.

Avoid keyboard patterns or personal information. “If I know your spouse or your dog’s name, I have a good chance of guessing your password,” says Padinjaruveetil. He also recommends staying away from patterns like QWERTY, and also “password” since it’s one of the most commonly used passwords.

Bank account and credit card numbers

In the age of online shopping and mobile banking, your bank account and credit card numbers are a vital part of your digital identity—because if that information is compromised, your financial life is put on hold to pick up the pieces.

Never use your social media passwords for your financial accounts. While it’s difficult to have unique passwords for every account, Padinjaruveetil says to at least make those passwords different from your financial accounts. That way, if your social media accounts’ passwords are compromised, your financial information won’t be.

Avoid making transactions over public Wi-Fi networks. If you’re sitting at a coffee shop while browsing your favorite clothing store’s app, wait to make your purchase until you get to a secure, protected network you trust.

Don’t save your card information on shopping websites. Of course, saving your card information makes online purchases so much more convenient. But if that account becomes compromised, your card information is vulnerable, too.

Biometrics

If you have a recent smartphone, chances are you unlock it using facial recognition or your fingerprint—in other words, biometrics. They are great for convenience and, for the most part, safety—but this doesn’t mean your biometric data is totally untouched by identity theft.

Since biometric data has a high level of sensitivity, it tends to be more secure. But if it is compromised, that’s when identity theft could elevate to a level beyond your control.

“If your password or credit card gets stolen, typically you can replace it,” says Padinjaruveetil. “But if your fingerprint gets stolen, you can’t get a new finger. There’s a lot of real concerns around using biometrics.”

Only use biometrics in a few places. Limit using your fingerprint or face ID to just unlocking your devices and other places where your biometrics will only be stored on your device (versus on a server that could be accessed by thieves).

Keep your devices updated. When you get a notification to update your device, do it sooner rather than later. The updated software can employ new technology that continues to keep your biometric data safe and secure.

Online behavior and transactions

You’re scrolling through your social media feed when you see an advertisement for something you searched for recently. While you might think that’s a bit odd, it’s quite the opposite—because any activity you do online is being captured and used to provide better services to you, making it a part of your digital identity.

It ultimately boils down to making money. If you like going to the beach, you may get targeted with advertisements for beach houses, activities and supplies. “That’s the whole definition of a digital identity,” Padinjaruveetil says. “Everything that is personal to you, everything you share with others and every activity you do.”

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Use a virtual private network when traveling. VPNs help create a safe and secure connection over a public network—one of the main reasons it’s strongly recommended when traveling internationally. “If you’re on a VPN, it’s very difficult for somebody to snoop in and listen to what you’re typing,” Padinjaruveetil says.

Shop at trusted websites only. When you find something you love for cheap, it’s easy to want to buy it right away—even if the website seems a little suspicious. Padinjaruveetil’s rule of thumb? Only shop at websites that have a physical presence. That way, if something goes wrong, you can talk to someone face to face.

Make sure the website is secure.
Look for a lock symbol or “https” in the URL bar of your browser—especially if you’re giving out personal information. If you see either, you’ll know your connection is secure.

Social Security number

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of your identity? We have a guess: your Social Security number. So it should come as no surprise that it’s a part of your digital identity, too—especially if you’ve ever created an online account with your employer, health care provider, bank, student loan company or other government agency.

Only provide it when there’s a valid reason. Whether it’s in a doctor’s office, school or online, limit how often you share your Social Security number. Always ask why before giving it out—and make sure you get a sufficient reason before handing it over.

Online accounts and security questions

You probably can’t count all of the online accounts you have on your fingers and toes. And for each, you probably have answered a series of security questions to add another level of protection. Like those accounts, the security questions are also a part of your digital identity as they answer questions about who you are, from your mother’s maiden name to your childhood best friend.

Understand your login options. Many websites allow you to log in using your Google or Facebook account. Padinjaruveetil’s advice: Know what your options really mean. For example, if you use your existing logins to sign into a website, understand that Facebook or Google can collect the data you’re giving away on that particular site.

Think twice before posting personal information. Have you ever seen the long 20-question social posts where you answer fun, basic questions about yourself? Avoid taking those—many of the questions can also be common security questions.

Read the terms and conditions. In most cases, you have to accept the terms and conditions. But that doesn’t mean you should immediately hit “I agree.” By agreeing to a website’s conditions, you’re more than likely giving permission for them to collect behind-the-scenes data on you—and you should always be familiar and comfortable with the terms.

Social media

Likes, posts, reposts, shares, tweets, reacts, comments … all of the above become a part of your digital identity when you’re active on social media. And to go further, the info you give out in comments and posts becomes a part of your identity as well—whether it’s about what you’re doing or things you like.

Don’t accept every friend request or connection. Always err on the side of caution, even on LinkedIn. Because while it seems safe to connect with those who have similar backgrounds and interests, it’s not always going to lead to new opportunities.

Avoid geotagging your posts. While you may want to tout your vacation spots, Padinjaruveetil says it’s best to avoid giving out your location on your photos or videos, especially on Facebook and Instagram.

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