Are your financial accounts at risk?

The internet has made shopping and managing your personal finances a lot more convenient. It has also given criminals endless opportunities to access your personal information and use it for scams.

Your chances of being a victim of identity theft — whether by stolen credit card numbers or fraudulent accounts created using names and Social Security numbers — are high and rising. Today, one-third of US adults have experienced identity theft. And it doesn’t take much for scammers to commit crimes against you. With some combination of your name, bank information, Social Security number, or other financial details, you could be looking at fraudulent credit card charges or worse.

While you can’t protect against everything — an online store with your credit card number might have a data breach, for example — there are simple steps you can take to reduce your risk. Follow these dos and don’ts to help safeguard your identity and your finances.

  • DO use extreme caution with links and attachments. Phishing scams are a lot more convincing than they used to be. Scammers send messages from email addresses and phone numbers that look legitimate, hoping you’ll take the bait by clicking a link, opening a file, or providing personal information. The message may claim you need to take action to reset your password, verify your account, enter a lottery, or do something else that sounds important. In reality, it could be malware that can transmit your information or cause problems with your computer or smartphone. Don’t open any link or file unless you were expecting to receive it. Experts also suggest calling to make sure the message was actually sent by the person it appears to be from. If it’s a financial institution or credit card company, call them back at the phone number listed on your bill or card.
  • DON’T share personal information on social media. Scammers trawl social media sites to collect personal details that can later be used for identity theft. If you haven’t already, update the privacy settings on your social media accounts so strangers can’t see information about you. Always be mindful of what you share and keep any personally identifiable information (PII) — including your full name, Social Security number, driver’s license number, bank account number, email address and passport number — off your social media profiles (that includes taking pictures of them!). Never share your PII through messages, especially with people or companies you don’t know.
  • DO make sure you have strong passwords. This goes for your email, social media accounts, financial accounts, and anything else that requires a login. Weak or stolen passwords are a top cause of data theft, but they’re also one of the easiest things to improve. Use complex passwords with eight or more characters including uppercase and lowercase, special characters and numbers. Change your passwords regularly and never use the same password across multiple accounts. This is a lot easier with a password manager, which will generate strong varied passwords for different sites while only requiring you to remember one. Learn more about password managers.
  • DON’T access personal accounts over public or unsecured wireless networks. If you’ve ever accessed your bank account over the public Wi-Fi network in a coffee shop or library, you’re putting yourself at risk. The same goes for online shopping — if you enter payment information over public Wi-Fi, hackers may watch you do it and steal that information. Even your home Wi-Fi network, if unsecured, can open you up to theft. Make sure your home Wi-Fi network is secure with a complex password and be extra cautious about public Wi-Fi. Unless it’s an emergency, it’s best to not access sensitive information or provide personal information over a public Wi-Fi network.
  • DO check your bank and credit accounts frequently to spot fraudulent transactions. Scammers often start small, with the idea you won’t notice charges or suspicious activity. Review your accounts online regularly and make sure you recognize all charges and transactions. You may want to use a credit card instead of a debit card when shopping online, since credit cards commonly offer more fraud protection.
  • DO keep your operating systems up to date on your computer and phone. You should also check for spyware or malware on your devices. Antivirus software programs can be run to detect any malicious software on your computer or phone that may be monitoring your activity without your authorization.
  • DON’T forget to review your credit report at least once a year. It pays to make sure the information in your credit report is accurate and includes only accounts and activities that you’ve authorized. If you find an error, your first step is to dispute that information with the credit reporting company (Experian, Equifax, and/or Transunion). How much do you know about credit? Try the game below to see if you can identify the five main factors that affect your credit score.

 

Source(s):
““A Guide to Fighting Credit Card Fraud,” OppLoans Blog (opploans.com)
“Safety Tips for Sharing Financial Information Online,” OppLoans Blog (opploans.com)
“Simple, Smart Ways to Help Prevent Identity Theft,” Capital One (capitalone.com)
“What Are the Odds of Getting Your Identity Stolen?” IdentityForce Blog (identityforce.com)