As a freelancer, balancing your need for privacy with your desire to get work can be difficult. Often, so many questions arise:
Should you share personal information that can be used to identify you (such as your ID, SSN, etc.) with potential clients?
When it comes to your privacy, do you deal with freelance clients the same way you would deal with an employer?
What happens if someone nefarious hijacks your identity and decides to use it – along with the accompanying experience, social proof, and work samples – to seek work as a freelancer, under your name?
These are issues that you have to deal with sooner or later and being privacy-conscious as a freelancer is essential in an online world rife with scams, hacks, and thefts. But where should you start? Following these 6 privacy best practices will ensure you are much safer as a freelancer.
1. Keep tabs on your name and brand online to guard against identity theft.
One of the biggest privacy threats you have to deal with as a freelancer is your identity being stolen. Research from Javelin Strategy & Research shows that in 2017 alone there were 16.7 million victims of identity fraud, and these stolen identities were used to defraud people out of $16.8 billion.
Identity theft is a major issue – more so for freelancers. Thanks to how easy it can be to find information online, someone can quickly do a search on you, steal your identity, and use it to give him/herself a major advantage when dealing with other clients. What this means is that a random, unknown person can instantly claim to be you and leverage your years of experience, your credibility, your social proof, and even your location to seek jobs as a freelancer. Just ask this freelancer who had her identity stolen by a Bangladeshi native; using her identity, the Bangladeshi native was able to pose as a native-English speaking freelance writer from America and then used the opportunity to get more jobs. A real nightmare.
Unfortunately, no matter how much you try, you can’t protect yourself 100% from identity theft. However, you can make yourself much safer by doing the following:
- Regularly monitor your name and brand online. Using services like Google Alerts and Mention, set up alerts to automatically track mentions of your name, brand, and keywords online. If you see anything come up on you that you didn’t create or authorize, quickly follow up and have it removed before it becomes a bigger threat.
- File a DMCA notice. In the case that you find that someone is impersonating you by using your identity on their website or on a freelance job site to secure clients, you can file a DMCA takedown notice to compel them to take down your materials (which could include your pictures, sample content, or any other content you created and can claim copyright to).
With a little awareness and monitoring, you can give yourself an edge and stop the people planning to use your identity in their tracks before further damage is done.
2. Be wary about installing third-party software recommended by a potential client.
When a potential client says that you have to install third-party software before they can work with you, it is important to conduct your own independent investigations to make sure you are not installing malware or some other malicious software designed to steal your information.
There have been situations in the past when criminals claim to be a potential employer looking for a freelancer and then ask the freelancer to install a remote management app only to use the app as an avenue to take over the freelancer’s device, steal the freelancer’s details, and even defraud the freelancer.
If you really must install third-party software, investigate it independently and make sure you only install it from an official source. Many developers will protect their work with a code signing certificate. This certificate is issued by a Certificate Authority or CA like GlobalSign and acts as assurance that the software is authentic and has not been altered since being published.
3. Think twice before sending any identification or documentation to clients.
When an independent employer hiding only behind an email address and a Skype account asks you to provide important documents or information like your driver’s license or your social security number you should proceed with extreme caution.
If you carelessly provide “potential clients” with key information and documentation that identifies you, you can easily become a victim of identity theft – or these documents and information, with adept social engineering, can be used to access your bank accounts and defraud you.
4. Don’t ignore online security basics.
Oftentimes, very little things can make a big difference. You should pay careful attention to the following online security basics:
- Don’t ever use the Internet on a computer that does not have an antivirus, antimalware, and firewall software installed. If you do, there’s a huge possibility that a hacker can install a malware or keylogger that eavesdrop on you.
- As a freelancer, there will be more than a few times when you have to work on a public network – in a café, during your commute, at a restaurant, hotel, or elsewhere. In cases like these, don’t ever enter sensitive information on any website without using a VPN.
- Enable encryption on all your devices.
- Ensure that apps and software on your devices are regularly up to date.
5. Always be prepared against phishing attempts.
You also want to pay careful attention when trying to log on to sites that require you to input sensitive information. Some tips:
- Avoid entering sensitive information on websites accessed through links sent by an unknown third-party via email or IM. If possible, it is better to manually type the website URL in your browser instead of clicking a link.
- With key websites that require a login, pay careful attention to make sure that there is a padlock in the browser bar or secure site seal, and that the URL is actually correct and not a modified version of the actual website.
- Enable the anti-phishing feature of your antivirus software (if available) or install Chrome extensions like this one from Microsoft to help protect you against phishing attempts.
6. Separate your private life from your professional life.
Even though you are a freelancer that works remotely, it is important not to forget that you’re still a professional. As a result, it is important to take certain measures to keep your private life private:
- Don’t use the same social media profiles for your freelance business. It isn’t ideal to have clients connecting on your private Facebook account. Instead, create a Facebook page for your freelance business and have your clients connect with you over there.
- Check your privacy settings on your social network accounts. These sites might be giving out more information about you than you intend to share.
- Don’t use your personal email address for work-related activity. Create a separate, professional email address strictly for freelance work and ensure the password is different from that of your main email address.
The battle for privacy online is an ongoing one, but you want to take extra measures when your livelihood depends on your identity online. As a freelancer, heeding the above privacy best practices will save you from unnecessary worries.