Living in a world that is heavily dependent on the Internet comes with its own fair share of challenges, one of the biggest being information and identity theft. With millions of people engaging in online shopping, banking, and money transfers, the risk of personal financial information theft is higher than ever before. Fraudsters can easily pretend to be your bank or service provider, asking for details about your credit card through email or regular mail. They can also send malicious malware to your computer, mobile phone and other electronic devices, in order to obtain your financial information without your knowledge.
However, there are various ways that you can safeguard your personal financial information to prevent it from falling into the wrong hands. Here are several of them to consider:
1. Stay alert to impersonators
Your personal financial information is yours and yours alone to keep. You should only entrust it to your spouse or partner. There are many fraudsters both online and offline pretending to be someone else in order to gain access to your financial information. Never give out your personal financial information through mail, phone, or over the Internet, unless you have initiated contact and you know the person you are dealing with 100%.
It is always prudent to contact customer care of any company you are dealing with directly, first through their trusted website or customer service number to confirm that they are indeed the ones who made the request for your financial information.
2. Safely dispose of your personal financial information
Before you dispose of any material or device containing your sensitive financial information, think about what a fraudster could do if they got hold of that information. For financial information that still comes in the mail, invest in a shredder to help you completely and securely destroy any information printed in your documents. For devices such as computers, laptops, and smartphones, get rid of any financial information stored on them by resetting them to their factory settings before disposal. You can also check your device manufacturer’s website or browse through forums to find other ways to permanently delete information from your device.
3. Maintain your computer security
If you engage in financial transactions online (including shopping or sending and receiving money through online money transfer companies), having personal computer firewalls and security software is a must.1 Ensure you have anti-virus, spyware, anti-spam, and other crucial security software packages that safeguard you from attacks by malware and viruses. Also ensure that these software packages are always turned on and configured to automatically update.
4. Encrypt your financial information online
To safeguard your online transactions, you must keep your browser safe and secure at all times. This is possible by using encryption software to scramble any information you transfer through the Internet. Always check for a “lock” icon on your browser’s status bar before sending personal financial information. When the lock is present, you can trust that your information will be safe during transmission. For example, to get to this article, you logged into the RETIRE SECURE FINANCIAL PLANNING website at https://retiresecurefinplg.com. This is a secure website, as evidenced by the "lock icon". Click on the lock and the security certificate should confirm the identity of the site and indicate that the connection is secure.
5. Use strong PINs and passwords and keep them secret
The importance of having strong passwords and PINs cannot be emphasized enough. To protect your personal financial information online, use strong passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols. You can also use pass-phrases instead of passwords because they are more complex to decipher. You may also opt to use two-factor authentication procedures for added security to your online accounts. Lastly, keep your passwords and usernames secret and secure.
6. Avoid over-sharing personal information on social networking sites
If you share too much personal information about yourself on social networking sites, an identity thief may use this information to answer certain ‘challenge’ questions to gain access into your online accounts and steal your money or personal financial information. Avoid posting your key personal details, such as addresses, phone number, and even your full name on social networking sites.
7. Be extra prudent when using wireless connections
Many public wireless networks, such as in airports, cafes, hotels, restaurants, and schools, are not secure enough to risk using when conducting online financial transactions. Most of these places lower their network’s security settings so that people can easily access and use their wireless networks. However, this also means you are highly exposed to threats and attacks when using such networks. A hacker with the right tools can easily intercept your financial information when sharing the same wireless network with you. They can even tap into your device and observe everything you are doing on your device in real-time from their own device, all while unsuspectingly seated at the other end of the restaurant.
8. Do a periodic "Identity Theft" check
You should get in the habit of reviewing your credit reports at least once a year, or even more frequently to alert you to inaccuracies and unauthorized activity. You are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months from three different credit bureaus by contacting the Annual Credit Report Request Service at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only authorized online source for you to get a free credit report under federal law. Be aware that you will have to disclose your Social Security number to obtain this report.1
Since the information collected by each of the three credit bureaus can be different, it is advisable to request your free credit report every four months , each time from a different credit bureau.
Your personal financial information is hardly safe today. By implementing the measures listed above, you are can help to protect yourself against any theft or malicious use of your financial information. It is much more than an inconvenience—it can devastate your credit rating and derail your financial security.
This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.