10 Tips to Protect Your Financial Information Online
Nothing online is 100 percent safe, but these steps can improve your security
There is no guarantee that your financial information or identity is safe online. The answer to keeping your financial data as safe as possible relies on you. As businesses increasingly depend on electronic data, it’s up to you to remain diligent and proactive to reduce risk. If you think an institution like an investment company keeps your delicate information 100 percent safe, you would be mistaken.
While there are weaknesses in technology that surrounds financial management, cyber hackers prey on human weakness—your mistakes and vulnerabilities. I have a couple of real-life stories to share with you, and a few suggestions to be a cyber warrior, and keep your identity and finances as safe as you can.
1. A phishing trip
Identity thieves use phishing sites to obtain sensitive information by pretending to be a trusted site. You can set your computer to clear your cache and eliminate your online history and passwords you might have entered after each browser session. Phishing sites usually look suspicious; they might be missing images, information or features you’re used to seeing, or might request additional information you wouldn’t normally enter. If a site looks different than you’re used to, that’s a red flag. Make sure you’re not being asked for any information that you usually wouldn’t be required to provide to log in, such as a social security number or address.
2. Don’t save passwords on sites
When your passwords are saved on a website, not only is your password information stored on their server, which could be vulnerable to cyberattack, there is also a record on your computer. An estimated 10 percent of all cybercrime is committed by someone you know, someone who browses over your shoulder while you are logging in or has access to your computer. For example, let’s say my evil twin is a guest in your house and asks to use your computer to check her email. She opens your Firefox browser, goes to “options,” clicks on the security tab and opens “saved logins,” then “show passwords.” Viola! In less than a minute, a list of every username and password you have saved is revealed. If you have saved passwords, clear this dangerous information from each browser you have used and don’t select the option to save login information or passwords when browsing.
3. One more rant on passwords
I know it’s hard to remember different passwords, but it’s a really good practice to use a different password for every account you access online. When helping clients set up websites or other marketing tools, I’ve often had to access various accounts via their passwords. Invariably, passwords will be the same, to which I look them in the eye and say “I hope this isn’t your banking password too (blank stare). Please change it after we’re done here.”
4. Only make purchases on trusted sites
Make sure the independent retail sites you use have reputable payment processors such as PayPal or Google Checkout. When checking out, look for https:// in your URL. The ‘s’ at the end of http designates a secure site; or look for the padlock icon on the bottom of your browser to verify that the page is safe. Keep in mind, no website is safe—even the big retailers are vulnerable.
5. Can the spam
Don’t open anything that looks like spam in your email. Not only are these messages often from phishers, but they can also contain Trojan horses (viruses) that can get into your computer and send your information back to hackers. If you have opened an email and realize it is not from anyone you know or a trusted site, don’t click anything within the email. Close it, mark it as spam, trash it and run your anti-virus software.
6. Set banking alerts
Many financial institutions offer email and SMS alerts when your accounts reach certain conditions such as a transaction limit. Setting alerts for your accounts can ensure that you find out about unauthorized access as soon as possible. If your bank doesn’t use unique security questions and a two-step verification process, you may want to consider switching banks.
7. Public computers and private information
Avoid using public computers for anything that requires you to submit sensitive information. It just about killed me one time when I had to log into my bank account from a public computer in a hotel lobby while traveling. There are thousands of risks, including a wayward employee installing a keystroke app that records everything you type into the computer during your session. If you absolutely have to use a public computer for a sensitive transaction, never store user names or passwords, make sure you log out completely from your account and clear the browsing history. If possible, shut down the computer when you are done.
8. Order your credit report
Keeping tabs on your credit report is essential to make sure accounts are not fraudulently opened in your name. The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act mandates that each of the major credit bureaus supply consumers with a free copy of their credit report each year. You can get yours at AnnualCreditReport.com.
9. Secure your network
A cyber thief can gain access to anything you do over an unsecured network―one that doesn’t have a password―in a matter of seconds. If you look at the documentation for your wireless router (or look it up online if you don’t have the manual,) you’ll be able to find out how to lock your router and encrypt your information. It won’t affect the way you use your wireless network, but it will help keep intruders from getting a hold of your info.
10. Be careful what you share online
Social media is designed for people to get to know you, and there is a tendency to share personal information, such as your date of birth. It is also a common place for petty thieves to log enough information about you like your pet’s name, date of birth, address, phone number, where you work, and favorite likes, and be able to guess your passwords based on that data. Other apps that help with productivity can be a trap for sensitive data, too. While I’m an avid fan of online calendars, to-do lists and organizers, it’s important that you don’t store account numbers, passwords or personal information on these. They are not protected in the same way as sites that secure financial information, and are therefore even more vulnerable to a data breach.
Protect your information
In 2017, 16.7 million people were victims of identity theft in some way. Identity fraud is becoming so common that just turning on a computer seems to be a risk. Take extra care online and when storing your personal information, and you can reduce the chance of being part of the statistics.