You hear on the news that hackers stole credit card information from a big box store you frequent. At work, you get a text message asking if youâ€™ve made a recent purchase in a different state. You open an email about a password change when you havenâ€™t requested one. Sound familiar?
At some point, itâ€™s likely youâ€™ve experienced anxiety about having your personal and financial account information exposed. And according to a 2016 Pew Research Center survey, 64 percent of Americans have been affected by a major data breach. Even though a majority of people in America are victims of some type of fraud, hack, scam, or breach, few of us actually follow digital best practices that help secure our information.
Improving account security is simple, but it does require some action. Account security is the digital equivalent to locking your home and car against intruders. The effort required to secure your accounts is minimal compared to the frustration, stress and time involved in resolving fraudulent account activity or restoring your identity if it gets stolen.
Remember these key action steps that will help you secure personal information from hacks, scams or other attacks. The more of these steps you implement, the safer your accounts will be.
- Strong passwords on all accounts, change them frequently and use different passwords on every account. Use a password manager app, write passwords down, keep them in a safe place and this is one time itâ€™s okay not to share with others. Make sure password resets require personal identifying information. Â
- PIN codes or password protection on electronic devices, including your phone and computer.
- Challenging security questions that need to be answered if you forget a username or password.
- Fraud alerts on all of your credit cards.
- Two-factor authentication when possible. The password is one factor and the second factor is usually a code, phrase, PIN or even a fingerprint.
- Regular scans of your computer and other electronic devices by anti-virus and anti-spam software.
- Credit freezes at all three credit bureaus to help prevent identity theft.
- Statements and balances (credit card, bank, investment, loan.) Keep all receipts and consider removing any auto-payments. When bills get paid automatically, you may miss fraudulent charges if you donâ€™t remember to carefully review statements.
- Your credit report. Are there accounts listed you havenâ€™t opened? Make sure you report anything that doesnâ€™t look right. Consider closing old accounts that can still provide hackers with personal information.
- Emails carefully instead of just hitting reply. Make sure emails are authentic. If you have questions, contact the sender. Unsubscribe from email lists that are no longer important to you.
- Privacy settings (on social media accounts too.) Open settings can provide intruders with information that can be used in an attack on your accounts.
- For card â€œskimmersâ€ at gas stations, ATMs and other card readers. Look for signs of tampering and if in doubt, go inside to use your card or pay cash. Also report your findings to a manager.
- For software updates that provide patches for security flaws. Internet threats are constantly evolving. Donâ€™t choose â€œupdate laterâ€ when it comes to updating software and protecting yourself.
- Sharing too much information on social media accounts. The answers to security questions may be easily found in your profiles and discussions.
- Phishing scams by always being vigilant about what emails you open and what files you download. Contact any business or agency that requests personal information before you share it online or download files that could infect your computer with malware.
- Unsecured networks, public Wi-Fi or computers to access personal accounts.
Keep in mind that your accounts are only as secure as the weakest link that protects them. While you may not be able to control what happens with the personal data collected where you shop or do business, these steps can help secure your accounts. Â
As negative as it sounds, trust no one and question everything. Assume someone is always trying to get your personal and financial information so youâ€™ll stay on guard. If it looks like something isnâ€™t accurate on a statement, donâ€™t wait – call your bank or credit card company immediately. It is always better to err on the side of caution when dealing with account safety.
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