The Internet can be a dangerous place. I’m sure that comes as no surprise – we’ve all heard nightmare tales of identity theft, data breaches, and even malware that takes your computer data hostage and makes you pay to get it back. (That last one is called Ransomware and, yes, it’s a real thing.) Essentially, the Internet is the new Wild West, and you must be prepared to face these challenges. You need to protect yourself, especially during the work-at-home job hunt when you’re sharing such personal data as your name, address, and social security number with companies you may have only been in contact with online. Let’s look at the steps you can take to stay safe.
The very first step you should take before ever browsing the Internet is installing and running antivirus and anti-malware software. If you don’t, you might as well be wandering around in a thunderstorm with a lightning rod – you’re going to get hit with something unpleasant. Most new computers come with trial versions of either McAfee or Norton. You can also find fantastic free antivirus programs like Avast Free Antivirus, AVG Enterprise FREE, or Bitdefender Antivirus Free Edition. For protection against malware, try Malwarebytes or Cybereason RansomFree.
Now that your computer is protected, here’s the next big rule for using the Internet: be extremely cautious about giving out personal information. When you’re job searching, you may be tempted to upload your résumé to any number of job sites to make filling out applications easier and to help prospective employers find you. Unfortunately, it’s not always a good idea. Generally, your résumé will include your name, address, phone number, email address, details about where you’ve worked and lived – in other words, a wealth of personal information that someone can use to steal your identity. Make sure you only provide the bare minimum of personal data when sharing your résumé online, and that you’re dealing with a reputable job board or employer when you give out more specific information (including your date of birth). You can do this by editing your résumé to redact sensitive info, or reworking a chronological résumé into a functional résumé.
There is some information you should never give out, unless you’re certain it’s being used by a reputable employer for legitimate reasons. These include your bank account number, your driver’s license number, and your social security number. A real employer may use this information to set up your direct deposit and deal with taxes. A scammer will use it to steal your identity.
Another way to protect yourself online is to become familiar with common scams and tactics that fraudsters use to steal your information or your money. Their methods include using fake job advertisements and phishing emails. A great general rule of thumb is that if a great-paying job literally falls into your lap and is too good to be true – it’s probably a scam.
Fake jobs pop up on Craigslist all the time and can appear on other job boards as well. Once you respond to these, they’ll often request your bank account information or to see one of your utility bills right away. If you find yourself in this position, don’t give them that information! They’re trying to steal from you. The same is true for job applications that tell you that you need to purchase training materials or product assembly kits. These are usually not legitimate employment opportunities, but simply methods to extort money from you.
Phishing emails (in a job search context) are those emails that come out of nowhere, from people you’ve never heard of, telling you that you’re being considered for an amazing work-from-home job. They just need you to click through to a site that asks for all your personal information, or they want you to tell them your bank account details. You know what to do with these emails, right? Don’t give them any information! Don’t even reply; just delete them and move on with your day. With as competitive as the work-at-home world is, there is no need for companies to start soliciting applications. And where would they have gotten your email anyway? This is total scam.
Let’s look at a few ways to level up your personal protection practices online.
Do you know what an EIN is? It’s an employee identification number issued by the IRS, and you can get one for free. If you’re primarily a freelancer or independent contractor, it’s often a great idea to start a small business for your work. And, if you do, you can get an EIN which you can provide to the companies you work for in place of your social security number. This offers another layer of protection between you and potential identity theft.
In order to avoid giving out your personal phone number, get a Google Voice number or sign up for Skype instead. Google Voice is a robust and free program that will give you a local number and incredibly useful tools to use in managing your phone calls and conversations. You can even forward calls received at your Google Voice phone number to your personal number! You can also get a phone number from Skype that people can call from any phone, though note that this is a paid service. You can make Skype to Skype calls for free.
Another effective way to protect your personal information is to familiarize yourself with and use available security settings at various job sites. You can entirely hide your résumé on sites like Indeed and Monster. Indeed only shows your phone number and email address to employers you’ve applied to, and they never share your address. Even with your résumé set to private, you can still use it to apply to jobs you find on CareerBuilder, Monster, and Indeed. Your résumé just won’t be searchable for any employers, which helps protects you from the scammers.
You’re all set to get a safe start online! Just remember to be cautious with your personal information, trust your instincts, and always verify that a company is legitimate before speaking with them or sending them additional information.