Every other week, it seems that we hear of another cybersecurity breach that puts your information at risk. Whether a hacker has stolen your credit card number from a store’s database, or whether one of the sites you visit frequently has had usernames and passwords compromised, you never know when your financial information is going to be at risk.
Right now, it’s not so much a matter of if a database containing personal information is breached — it’s a matter of when. Even so, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk and to protect your financial information from the unscrupulous
Your first line of defense is the way you manage your passwords and PINs. Choose passwords that include a mix of letter and numbers, and that don’t have a connection to your personal information. Avoid PINs that are related to important dates in your life, since that is information that hackers can access with surprising ease.
Change your passwords on a regular basis, especially for financial accounts. Your online bank account, credit card, and brokerage account access should all be changed two or three times a year for your protection.
Finally, don’t use the same password for multiple sites. In some cases, a hacker only needs to use an attack to get the username and password for one website. Armed with that information, the same combination can be tried on multiple sites. In many cases, it works well, because a large number of people try to simplify matters by reusing passwords.
An easy way to manage difficult unique and passwords for your sites is to use a password manager. Programs like LastPass and 1Password provide encryption for your passwords, and help you manage multiple complex passwords for your sites, helping you protect your financial information.
02. SECURE BROWSING
When accessing your financial accounts, avoid using public computers and connections. Keyloggers might be hidden on public computers, or there might be other security concerns. Logging into your bank account from a public computer might provide scammers with just what they need to compromise your finances.
If you do check your financial information from another computer, look for the “cache” and the “history” on the browser and clear those out. You should also check the computer and the browser for “temporary internet files” that might save some of your information.
Also, be wary of checking your accounts using public wi-fi. Many wireless hotspots have sub-par security, and that means hackers and others can steal your information. If you’re going to do something related to finances, whether it’s executing a trade using your brokerage’s mobile app, or just checking your bank balance, wait until you have access to a more secure network.
Scammers are becoming increasingly sophisticated about the way they trick you into revealing personal financial information. Any time you see an email asking you to provide personal information, including account numbers, passwords, or your Social Security number, delete it. Legitimate companies don’t ask you to send this information over email.
Watch out, too, for emails asking you to call a specific number or click on a link in the email. These can be scams, too. The number you call might not be your financial institution’s official number, or the link might take you to a site that looks official, but really isn’t. If you receive an email asking you to take any sort of action, go find your account statement. Call the customer service number listed on the statement, rather than trusting the unsolicited information you’ve been given.
Even when you’re browsing on your computer at home, you need to be careful. Make sure you are on a secure website before entering information. You can check the address bar for the “lock” icon or look for the “s” at the end of the “http” in the URL header.
03. DOWNLOAD WITH CARE
You should also be very careful about what you download from the Internet. Sometimes, software downloads come with spyware designed to track your keystrokes and the sites you visit. This is one way hackers and scammers steal your information.
04. SECURITY SOFTWARE
Installing and updating computer security software can help you avoid accidentally visiting dangerous sites, and it can also block viruses and other malware from infecting your computer.
05. MONITOR THE SITUATION
Finally, monitor your accounts. No matter how smart you are about protecting your financial information, you can’t protect against someone else’s data breach. This means that you need to check your account statements and reconcile them with your records.
Keep an eye out for fraudulent transactions that indicate your credit card number has been stolen. Also, check your credit report regularly for clues that your identity might be compromised. The quicker you notice fraud and tackle it, the better off you’ll be.