10 Surprisingly Easy Ways to Protect Your Financial Info

You hear about data breaches in the headlines every day. Target, Yahoo!, big banks…and the list goes on. No company is immune – and that means we are all in danger.

Believe it or not, last year one out of every 20 Americans was a victim of identity fraud and theft. One in 20! And together, they lost $16 BILLION in 2016 alone.

There were 1,093 data breaches that made 37 million people victims of cybercrimes. New impostor scams – where a criminal pretends to be a trusted institution like your bank, the IRS, or the Social Security office – popped up with alarming frequency.

And 2017 is looking even worse.

Already this year, the “Shadow Brokers” (allegedly) stole and sold classified NSA materials. WannaCry and Petya ransomware attacks disrupted power grids, major corporations, banks, and hospitals. Cloudflare (the company that offers security for things like OKCupid and FitBit customers) reported a major data leak. And nearly 200 million U.S. voter records were hacked!

Your private financial data is under siege, and the threats just keep coming. So it’s more important than ever to take matters into your own hands. I tell all my clients to do these 10 things to protect precious financial information.

  1. Protect all of your devices. No matter what type of device you use – laptop, tablet, or smartphone…Mac or PC – update the security protocols right away. Keep your security software active at all times. (If you don’t have any, buy it today. It is well worth the investment. I recommend McAfee 2017 Total Protection or Norton Security Deluxe) Make sure to log out of your bank, brokerage, and online shopping accounts when you’re done on the sites. And password-protect your devices…especially if you frequently use them in public settings. And to keep your files safe from ransomware attacks, back them to an external device (like a flash drive).

    * Disclosure: Some of the links on this page are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission.

  2. Reset your passwords regularly. For financial accounts, change your passwords every 90 days, and always use different passwords for different accounts. Any time you can, use two-step authentication, a more secure process that requires you to enter a code that’s been texted (or emailed) to you each time you login.
  3. Use encryption. Always look for the “lock” icon in your secure browser’s status bar before you enter your password. That lock along with the “https” heading ensures that your data will be encrypted as it’s transmitted. Every page on the website, and not just the login page, should have the “https” and the lock, or your information may not be secure.
  4. Avoid unsecured wi-fi whenever you can. And never use an unsecured wi-fi connection (especially in hotels and airports where criminals camp out to steal data from innocent travelers) to log in to a password-protected account.
  5. Keep your apps secure. If you have financial apps, turn on their highest security settings. Yes, this is sometimes very annoying, but it beats having a criminal rack up thousands of dollars of debt in your name or drain your bank accounts.
  6. Check your credit report. Every year, you can get FREE copies of your credit reports year from all three of the main credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get your free reports, and review them very carefully, keeping an eye out for any activity that isn’t yours. If you see fraudulent transactions (or mistakes) on any of the reports, let the credit agency know right away (you can do that right on their website).
  7. Guard your credit. If you think someone may have gotten their hands on your information, put a fraud alert or a security freeze on your credit reports immediately. Fraud alerts – which require creditors to verify your identity before extending any new credit, issue new credit cards, raise a credit limit, open a credit line, or offer a loan – last for 90 days. A security freeze is even stricter: no one can take out credit in your name or even check your credit without knowing your secure PIN code. (You can temporarily lift the freeze if you need someone to check your credit). The freeze stays in place until you decide to remove it.
  8. Be cautious with social media posts. When you post personal information – like your pet’s name, your favorite band, where you went to elementary school - the easier it will be for criminal trying to get into your accounts through challenge questions (those questions that come up when you want to reset your login information). In fact, a lot of those “quizzes” are put out by people gathering data – like the best 10 concerts you’ve been to. Limit the people with access to your personal page – especially if you vacation a lot and like to post while you’re away (criminals will know no one is home). And never post your social security number, your full name, or your home address on a public site.
  9. Review your account statements. Whenever you get a bank, brokerage, or credit card statement, read it. Look for unfamiliar charges, withdrawals, or other activity. If anything looks fishy, report it right away.
  10. Get a lockbox and a shredder. Put your financial documents (like previous years’ tax returns, savings bonds, etc.) in a lockbox or safe deposit box. Any paperwork with identifying personal or financial information that you don’t want to keep should be shredded. You can cut down on the kind of mail that criminals love – like those preapproved credit card applications and credit card checks for balance transfers – by opting out. Do that at www.optoutprescreen.com.

By taking these simple security steps, you’re making it nearly impossible for the fraudsters to win. Protect your identity and your financial future by doing as many of those as you can today.

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