By Kristen Bahler
February 15, 2019

We’ve gotten a lot better, collectively speaking, at protecting our identities.

Online registration forms now require strong, hacker-proof passwords. Vigilant IT teams have trained us to avoid the phishing scams lurking in our inboxes. And it’s been a REALLY long time since grandma tried to wire cash to a Nigerian prince.

But massive data breaches are only getting worse. Just last month, a treasure trove of stolen email passwords was leaked onto the dark web — the largest breach ever, Wired reports. And hacked cash registers at Saks Fifth Avenue and Forever 21—both of which had their systems compromised last year—proves retailers’ cybersecurity woes didn’t end with the 2013 Target fiasco.

If all of this kind of makes you want to vomit, here’s what one cybersecurity expert says should do instead.

The next time a company asks for your birthday—online store, brick and mortar shop, restaurant, or otherwise—don’t give it to them.

It’s not an infallible solution to cybercrime. But it is a concrete step that will put you miles ahead of most consumers should your data get stolen, says Jeni Rogers, author of “200+ Ways to Protect your Privacy.”

“It takes more than one piece of information for [hackers] to really do their damage,” she says. “So when all kinds of data on one person is stored in a system, and they’re able to access it, that’s the hacker jackpot.”

Signing up for rewards programs and birthday freebies can be tempting, especially at the brands we’re loyal to. Starbucks gives you free coffee; 7-11 lets you rack up discounts on Slurpees and chili dogs (who wouldn’t want that?). But when companies store that information in the same place they keep credit card data, it gives hackers “one more piece of the puzzle they don’t have to work for,” Rogers explains.

So don’t do it. Don’t do it at online stores, don’t do it at restaurants, and don’t do it at your favorite local haunts (you really think those coffee shop iPads are impervious to cybercrime?!).

If you have to prove your age for legal reasons—at a tanning salon, maybe, or a tattoo parlor—flash your ID, and ask the company to keep your birthdate out of its system, Rogers says.

And don’t be embarrassed about it.

“The thing about protecting your privacy is you sometimes have to ride the line between being a conspiracy theorist and having common sense,” she says. “This is a simple, un-intimidating thing that doesn’t make you look like a crazy person.”

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