This time of year, I am often asked how to save money on Christmas gifts and/or how to avoid overspending throughout the holiday season. As I was thinking about this topic and the various approaches that could be taken, I decided the first step could be to simply protect your information. With the continuing revolving door of large companies being hacked and OUR personal information being stolen, what can we do to protect our ourselves?
Cyber-criminals are looking to capitalize on any personal, sensitive information they can obtain. That information can provide them several avenues for quick cash such as:
- Selling the information on the “dark web.”
- Draining the victim’s bank accounts.
- Using the victim’s credit cards to make purchases.
- Setting up new credit accounts in the victim’s name.
- Filing fraudulent tax returns for refunds.
Many folks are choosing more and more frequently to shop online with convenience as the main reason. Yet we need to be very vigilant if we do not want to become a victim of identity theft. Here are some steps you can take to protect yourself.
Don’t Use Unprotected Wi-Fi Hotspots
If it’s public, any information you enter may be accessible to others. If you need to access financial information in a public place, see if your cell phone provider offers a secure hot spot or purchase a device that allows you to have a secure connection to the internet using the data on your cell phone plan.
Do Your Shopping on Sites You are Familiar With
- Make sure the site designation is “https” and look for the “lock” icon in your browser’s URL bar.
- Change your browser settings to alert you if a site is “unsafe.”
- If the site doesn’t look right, trust your instincts and close it.
Watch for Phishing Emails
- Cyber-criminals use these emails to trick you into disclosing personal, confidential information.
- They pose as a trusted source, such as your financial institution, the IRS, or someone you know.
- Their goal is to convince you to click on a link or open an attachment.
- The link may take you to a fake website that will steal any information you enter. This website will look very similar to the website you are expecting.
- The attachment may download malware that tracks your keystrokes or ransomware that locks your computer.
- The safest course of action is to never open an attachment or click on a link unless it is something you are expecting.
- If the email is from a source you are familiar with, create a new email or call them to ask if they sent it.
- If you need to go to the link, hover over it to get the site. Then, type that into your browser rather than clicking on the link.
Use Security Software and Keep it Up to Date
You not only need anti-virus and anti-malware software on your computer, but you also need it on your phone and your tablets.
Use Strong Passwords
- Experts suggest using passwords of at least ten characters.
- Use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
- Don’t use family names.
- Use phrases that only make sense to you such as BlueCouchinLivingRoom.
- Insert a special character in the middle of the password.
Take Advantage of Multi-Factor Authentication
Multi-factor authentication requires, besides a user name and password, a security code sent to the user as a text or email. Most financial institutions require this.
Use Encryption and Passwords for Sensitive Data
This is important if you store your financial records, such as bank statements, tax returns, or any other personal identification information, on your computer. Most .pdf programs allow you to encrypt and password protect .pdf files. There are also software programs that will encrypt all of the files on your computer. Of course, to make this work successfully, you need to password protect your computer.
Don’t let cyber-criminals ruin your holiday season! If you choose to shop online, make sure you stay safe with the above tips to ensure you have a holiday that is full of love and laughter and low on stress.
Judith Ackland has more than 26 years of experience in accountancy and financial planning, including seventeen years as a CFO of a diverse business. She started Crystal Financial in 2010 to help a wide array of individuals, families, and business owners better understand their finances and how good financial management could help them achieve their goals. Judith has an MA in Professional Accountancy from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln as well as a Certified Public Accountant Certificate and a Certified Financial Planner designation.