Identity Theft: Creating a Strong “Passphrase” and Other Cybersecurity Tips

By Scott Gulbransen

AARP State Communications Director

Most of us don’t think twice about those passwords that we set up for our various online accounts.

But according to the cybersecurity company Symantec—known for its Norton and LifeLock products—we should be taking our passwords much more seriously. The company reports that some 1.1 billion people had their identities exposed to theft and fraud in 2016, which was double from the previous year.

Your first line of defense against cybercriminals is a well-written password. However, people often use a single word as their password and/or reuse passwords across several accounts, putting their security at great risk.

So rather than passwords, experts now recommend a “passphrase,” a few words that form an easy to remember, short sentence. Avoid using names, places, and words from your past, like an old street address or your mother’s maiden name. Instead, think of something basic but meaningful to you, for example, the phrase, “I love my dog.”

Then make this passphrase stronger by including:

  • Capitalization
  • Punctuation
  • Numbers
  • Spacing
  • Alternate Spelling
  • At least 12 characters

By using the original phrase “I love my dog,” you could end up with:  IluvMi 2dogz!  Or #ILOVE myDog 2018! Always use a different passphrase for each of your accounts.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network website is free of charge for members, non-members, and people of all ages. This site provides expert, trustworthy information on the latest scams and ways to protect yourself while shopping, banking, using social media, donating to a “charity,” and more here.

Sign-up for AARP’s Free Watchdog Alerts.

And check out the Federal Trade Commission’s detailed Identity Theft web page that outlines the various types of cybercrime, how to recognize if you have been hacked, and steps to protect yourself.

In addition, the Library District offers a number of books and classes that provide helpful information about protecting yourself from scams, fraud, and cybercrime. Check out our new website at to search for these topics and more.

Stay safe out there!

The AARP Retirement Survival Guide


Rossen to the Rescue

Why They Do It

The Basics of Cyber Safety

Preventing Credit Card Fraud