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In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher.
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Earlier, Consumer Tip discussed a “sextortion” scheme in which stolen passwords were used to personalize an emailed threat and ransom demand. Today, we talk about protecting your password — the gatekeeper into your most personal accounts — email, e-commerce stores, health providers, banks, credit cards, travel agencies, etc.

In recent security breaches, the lists of passwords showed that way too many of us use weak passwords such as 123456, password, qwerty, abc123, 111111 or letmein. Any human can get into your sensitive data in a heartbeat with passwords like those, and today’s personal information thieves use much more sophisticated robots.

So don’t use common phrases or lazy word/letter strings in your password. Or personal information such as your street or birth year, family name or even your pet’s name. A stronger password contains several random words or letters, numbers and characters. How you remember such a password is another matter.

The safest way is to use password software or applications to create, streamline, store and recall passwords. Marc Saltzman wrote a comprehensive guide to password managers in September on AARP’s website. Popular password managers include DashlaneRoboFormKeeperSticky Password and Last Pass, and they’re generally free to start and easy to use.

Troy Hunt, founder of the Have I Been Pwned? database, writes that “The Only Secure Password Is the One You Can’t Remember” — an excellent, if somewhat techie, overview of the problem with passwords. He swears by1Password.

Are you frustrated with passwords? In a Mediaplanet op-ed, security consultant Frank Abagnale Jr. says we need to move past “a reliance on passwords that since the 1970s haven’t advanced that much at all. That’s a lot of years for criminals to figure out how to cheat the systems. If we want to stay a step ahead, passwords must be put to pasture and the new technologies that are readily available need their chance.”

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