Rick Rodgers, CFP®, CRPC®
Certified Retirement Counselor®

I’m wondering how many people have returned to their old habits now that the Equifax data breach is not in the news every day. Protecting personal information to avoid identity theft needs to be ongoing. There is probably no way to remove all risk of identity theft, but there are many steps that can be taken to minimize it.

Find out what is already out there – Google yourself

Surveys have shown that 20% of people who did searches on themselves found inaccurate information. A third found content that had been shared without permission.

After Google information is fixed or removed, do the same thing with Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media.

Avoid sharing too much on social media

There is a good chance any information about you on social media is also available to hackers. Even if your Facebook posts are set to private, they could be copied by a friend who has a hacked account. Be very careful with information you share about yourself. Information used to identify yourself for any account should not be available anywhere online, like your pet’s name, anniversary, high school mascot, etc.

Online Protect your personal email account

An email address poses a large vulnerability for many people. It is not unusual for someone to have multiple accounts assigned to an individual email address, like medical records, bank accounts, and frequent online shopping sites. Once a hacker has access to a personal email account, he or she can change the password and request funds, change the mailing address, and even open new accounts.

You should take strong steps to protect your personal email address like you would to protect your Social Security number. Create a strong password and change it frequently for any personal email account.

Reduce risks when using credit or debit cards online

Whenever any kind of electronic financial transaction is done online, the user faces some risk that personal information or money could be stolen. Multiple retailers have been hacked over the past several years, potentially compromising credit card numbers and personal information belonging to their customers.

Use a credit card for online shopping instead of a debit card. A credit card likely has more fraud prevention and protection. Look for a secure connection (https://) and valid security certificates before entering any information. Some financial institutions offer virtual credit cards that allow the user to generate a virtual credit card number. This is a single-use number tied to a real card, but has a fixed spending limit and an expiration date. Hackers would only get the temporary credit card number if the information was exposed.

Be extra cautious when banking online

Gaining access to someone’s bank account must be the gold ring for cyber thieves and hackers. Malware that infects a personal computer can capture user IDs and passwords and send this information to criminals. The most common method for a cybercriminal to install malware on a computer is to get someone to click on a link in an email to download a poisoned program. Free software and other pop-up ads often have malware embedded. Think carefully about the source before you download apps, click on links, or reply to email that might be fraudulent.

Never do banking on a public computer or public wi-fi networks in airports, cafes, etc. Even when using your own computer and hotspot, be aware of your surroundings when you bank online. “Shoulder surfers” are people who hover nearby and observe your information hoping you won’t take notice. Be sure to keep your laptop or mobile device’s operating system and Internet browser up to date with the latest security updates. Always log out of your online bank account when finished. It should be obvious, but not everyone takes the time to do it. Don’t leave a window of time open for hackers to access your account.

Many banks are moving toward fingerprint scans, device detection, and other more secure techniques to identify their customers rather than usernames and passwords. Facial recognition and voice prints may soon be the preferred method of accessing accounts. Until then, it’s imperative for security purposes that you create unique, complex passwords and update them frequently.

When possible, use two-factor authentication

Until biometrics become more commonplace, two-factor authentication (2FA) provides stronger security and is considered to be safe. 2FA is when a website asks for your username and password, and then sends a text message or email with a special code. If a hacker accesses your credentials, he or she would need to have your cell phone to get the code. Using the 2FA system makes the task too complicated, especially when many hackers are in other countries. Use 2FA for an extra verification step to the login process of your most critical accounts.

Don’t wait for the next Equifax breach to get your attention about the risk of identity theft. Start taking steps today to protect your personal and financial information.

Want to learn more about how to avoid identity theft? Get more of Rick’s tips for protecting your identity online and offline. See Rick’s original article here.

Rick’s Tips:

Social media is an excellent source of information for hackers to gather personal information about potential victims.

Personal email accounts are very valuable to cyber criminals. Extra precaution should be used to keep them secure.

Two-factor authentication provides an extra layer of security for your most critical accounts.

By Rick Rodgers

Sponsored by Willow Valley Communities

Stay informed by reading, Don’t Retire Broke, by Rick Rodgers. It’s “an indispensable guide to tax-efficient retirement planning and financial freedom”. You can purchase Rick’s book here.

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