It seems that every other day we hear about online security breaches experienced by major companies, from Yahoo to JP Morgan Chase, and even the IRS. Because we rely so heavily on the Internet to conduct financial transactions and manage our accounts, we can expect these events to continue. In fact, reported data breaches in 2016 increased 40% from 2015, with over 1000 instances disclosed.
Since your personal information is owned by companies who store their information online and in their databases, it’s impossible to avoid these situations entirely. But don’t let yourself think that there’s nothing you can do to protect yourself from hackers. Here are some practical steps you can take to ensure that your personal information and hard-earned money are as secure as possible.
Update Your Passwords
I know you hear this all the time, but how often do you make an effort to change your usernames and passwords? Many people reuse the same password for multiple accounts, which puts you at a higher risk of having your information stolen. If hackers can get a hold of one password, they may be able to obtain access to a vast amount of your information.
Ideally, passwords should be at least eight characters and include uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and symbols. It’s also wise to make your password a random assortment of these characters instead of a known word that can be found in the dictionary.
And don’t neglect your security questions.Choose questions and answers that are tough to crack so that only you can provide the information. Don’t use answers that can easily be found on your social media sites, such as birthplace, schools, or family member names.
Screen Your Emails
Phishing scams show up in your inbox regularly, even if you’ve applied stringent security settings to your email account. If an email sneaks in that looks like it is from a financial institution, do not click on any of the links or open any attachments. Most financial institutions will send you a secure message through your account or contact you by phone if there is a problem with or updates to your accounts. Delete the suspicious email or report it to your provider.
Mobile device applications are generally safer to use than desktop or laptop computers. It is much harder for hackers to install malware on a phone or tablet, so as long as you are using a secure Wi-Fi network or your cellular data connection, you can safeguard your accounts in this simple way. There is no guarantee against hackers, but this step will provide you with a bit more protection.
If you must use a computer to access your accounts, avoid using public computers, always logout, and clear your history on a regular basis.
Check Your Accounts Regularly
If you don’t frequently inspect your bank statements, credit card transactions, or credit reports, you may not realize your identity has been compromised until it’s too late. Make it a habit to review this information often and check for unknown line items or irregularities. Your credit report will also alert you to any problems by showing all your personal information and lines of credit. If you see anything amiss in these reports, it’s possible your identity has been stolen. You can get three free credit reports a year from annualcreditreport.com and a free TransUnion report once a week from creditkarma.com.
Many financial institutions also offer customizable notifications. You can opt to receive notifications for transactions placed outside of your geographical area, purchases above certain amounts, or instances when your credit card is used without the card being present. Take advantage of these security features to control the use of your accounts.
Invest In A Shredder
How many times have you thrown away or recycled something that includes your personal information? Many of us do this without even thinking of the consequences. Shred anything that contains your data; even credit card offers that come in the mail and past financial or tax information. It’s not difficult for people to dumpster dive or get their hands on these documents, so buy a shredder and dispose of these documents securely.
Be On Guard During Tax Season
Scammers are out in full force at tax time, often impersonating the IRS in order to obtain your information and your money. Beware of any requests for payments and avoid downloading any software or attachments that arrive through email. If you receive anything from the IRS that you are unsure about, contact them at 1-800-366-4484 to verify its authenticity.
You work hard to earn your money and protect your privacy, and it is my goal to work with you to safeguard these critical aspects of your life and help you preserve what is yours. Your wealth is too important to gamble with, so take heed when dealing with emails or phone calls pertaining to your finances and be vigilant with your online security. If you want to learn more about protecting and shielding yourself from hackers, please don’t hesitate to contact me today at (717) 283-4186 or by email at email@example.com.
David Niggel, CFP®, ChFC®, AIF® is the founder and president of Key Wealth Partners, LLC, an independent wealth management firm serving individuals, families, and business owners. Along with over a decade of financial services experience, he has advanced knowledge and training in providing holistic financial planning with fiduciary and ethical care, holding the CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, Chartered Financial Consultant®, and Accredited Investment Fiduciary® certifications. With hands-on entrepreneurial experience, he has the unique ability to help clients meet both their individual and business goals. Based in Lancaster, he serves clients through the York, Harrisburg, Hershey, and Central, Pennsylvania areas. Learn more by visiting www.keywealthpartners.com or connecting with David on LinkedIn.