More people seem to be safeguarding their financial information more closely, now more than ever. Retailers have had their systems hacked into and their customers’ personal and financial information stolen. As hackers delve deeper into the online world, they find new ways to get information that does not belong to them.
As informed citizens there are some measures you can take to try to protect yourself from hackers, who steal financial information:
- Change your passwords – As simple as it sounds, this is probably one of the most effective ways to keep hackers from stealing your financial information. Change your passwords every 3-6 months. Also make sure that your passwords are not based on things that can easily be put together. For example if your favorite flower is a Tulip and your birthday is March 5th, “Tulip05” is not a great password for you. It may be difficult to come up with a password that has nothing to do with you, but it is worth knowing it may essentially protect you from hackers.
- Ignore unknown phone calls and emails – If you don’t recognize the phone number or email address contacting you, just ignore it. Send the call to voicemail, and delete the email right away. These are usually phishing scams, where fraudulent people will con you into giving them your personal information pretending to be someone else: from a utility company, or a stranded relative.
- Only carry your essentials – Never carry your social security card around with you, unless you really need it. Once a thief gets hold of your social security number, they will have access to your entire life basically.
- Pre-treat your garbage – Be sure to shred any and all paperwork that has your name and address on it, before throwing it into the trash. Take special care with sensitive documents that may have account numbers, your social security number, etc. on it.
- Monitor your credit – There are plenty of ways to monitor your credit score. Many banking and credit institutions offer free credit monitoring services to those who do business with them, and checking doesn’t affect your actual credit score. You can also get a free credit report, once a year, from any of the big 3 credit agency: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. If you notice there are drastic changes on your report, or see things that should not be on there, report it immediately.
- Beware of public Wi-Fi – Having Wi-Fi access while in public is super convenient but be careful. Do not transmit any of your personal information across public Wi-Fi. If you must, use your own personal hotspot for that, if not wait until you’re home under your own secure Wi-Fi network.
- Shop on secure sites – On your web browser, by the web address, you may see a “lock” symbol. That will let you know that the website you’re on is secure. If that is not there, all hope is not lost. There is another way. In the web address, if you see “https” it is a secure site. The “s” denotes a secure site. Most large, well known sites will be secure; however, you will be taking some risk ordering things from smaller, unsecure sites.
- Secure your electronic devices – Make sure to have passwords on all of your electronic devices. Also, you should install anti-virus and firewall protections onto to all of your laptop and desktop computers.
- Don’t share too much via social media – The more personal information you post to social media, the easier it is for a hacker to come up with your possible passwords and answers to your security questions.
- Watch out for impersonators – Always ask questions to people that reach out to you for your personal information. If it sound fishy, it probably is. Therefore, you should never give any information out over the phone or through email.
While following all of these steps can make it harder for scammers and hackers, nothing is 100% foolproof. In the event that your personal financial information is stolen, there are a few things that you should do:
- Place a fraud alert on your credit file
- Freeze your accounts
- Freeze your credit reports
- Change all passwords
- Contact your financial institutions
- File an identity theft report with the FTC
- File a police report
Hopefully, it never has to come to this for you. Be vigilant in your credit monitoring, and in your online practices. Always make sure you sign out of your accounts on public computers and never share too much via public Wi-Fi.