In today’s digital age, it sometimes seems impossible to keep financial information safe. Each week, a new business gets hacked, and with it tons of client data. We’re all familiar with the Target data breach of 2013 and the infamous Equifax conundrum. In 2018, people reportedly lost $1.48 billion to fraud, an increase of 38% from the previous year.
Fortunately, there’s plenty you can do to reduce the odds of an attack. While some security steps might seem like common sense, keep in mind that scams and phishing attempts are more sophisticated than ever. Follow the seven steps below to keep your financial information safe.
1. Shop From Trusted Websites
If you love to shop online, keep in mind that you should use only trusted websites. It may seem like common sense, but it’s easy to get caught up in irresistible deals. If you see a price that looks too good to be true, it probably is. The deal acts as bait to collect personal information, like names, addresses, and credit card numbers. In many cases, the product paid for never arrives.
When you’re online, search for “HTTPS” in the address bar, where the “S” stands for secure. These websites, which have SSL certificates, use encryption to secure data and prevent hacking attempts.
2. Beware of Phone Scams
According to one 2019 report, one in six Americans have lost money to a phone scam in the past year. One common hoax is a threat from the “IRS.” A crook will call up, impersonating a federal agent. He might even sound official, demanding immediate payment and threatening arrest. It’s crucial to know that the IRS will never contact you by phone, always snail mail. Another con, also known as a lottery scam, will claim you’ve won a foreign lottery, which is always fake.
3. Set up Real-Time Alerts
Set up real-time alerts for transactions on bank accounts and credit cards. You can choose from two methods — email or text message. If you make a purchase, you’ll instantly receive a confirmation alert. If you get a message when you didn’t make a purchase, it’s time to freeze your accounts. Call up a customer service representative at your bank who can walk you through the process. The sooner you catch a fraudulent transaction, the easier it will be to reverse the damage.
4. Check for Skimming Devices
A skimming device is a small piece of equipment that attaches to an ATM or gas pump. The transaction will seem normal, and you’ll be able to complete your purchase. However, skimming devices will keep a record of your personal information — including credit card numbers and PIN codes. Hackers will then use this information to make fraudulent purchases. Gently shake the area of the machine where your card is inserted. If it’s loose or detaches, do not use your card.
5. Monitor Your Credit Score
Your credit score is what tells financial institutions how dependable you are — how likely you are to repay borrowed money. Credit monitoring will let you closely watch your score and report. If your identity gets stolen, you’ll be able to catch it in record time. Credit Karma is known to be one of the best free credit monitoring services, but there are also plenty of paid services offering protection plans.
6. Avoid Public Wi-Fi Networks
When you join a public Wi-Fi network, remember that traffic can be intercepted by a middle-man: a scammer. Any information entered — like credit card numbers for a purchase or log-in details to a bank account — can be stolen. Some scammers attempt to trick travelers by creating faux Wi-Fi networks with the same name as a hotel or coffee shop. To protect yourself, avoid public networks and use antivirus protection on all devices.
7. Dispose of Personal Information Safely
You may think financial data is only at risk online or over the phone, but some cons start in your trash can. When you dispose of something, whether it’s a prescription medication bottle or an old cell phone, you’re putting your private details at risk. In the case of medication, you should remove and shred labels. Cell phone data — including the SIM card — should be wiped.
Keeping financial information secure might seem like an impossible task. Still, you can take steps to make data as safe as possible. Keep in mind that you can do everything right and still get hacked — don’t be too hard on yourself if it happens. Instead, alert your bank or credit card company to the fraudulent activity right away. An employee will be able to walk you through the simple process, which will mostly involve waiting.
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