Protect your financial data or your number could be up.
Talk about a reversal of fortune. One day, you’re a successful businessperson we’ll call Alice to protect what’s left of your besieged identity. You’ve got a credit score that’s high in the Matterhorn regions of the 700s, savings cushy enough to give you that “bring-it-on” confidence about the future, and a pool of a retirement funds so flush, you can’t wait to cannonball into its welcoming depths.
The next day you discover you’ve taken out a mortgage on a property in a city you’ve never even visited, there are thousands of dollars of charges on your credit cards from businesses you’ve never heard of, and your once lofty credit score hit the slopes and is now perilously plunging beneath the contempt of even the most generous creditors.
What happened? Someone got access to some scrap of your financial data, just enough to convince the buying and selling universe that he’s you, Alice, or some Mrs. Hyde version of you who can’t seem to spend enough of your future away.
How to keep your data yours.
Once you’ve fallen into this black hole of financial data theft, it can often take years to get out. The good news is there are some specific best practices you can establish that will substantially reduce the likelihood you’ll ever be victimized.
- Keep your Social Security number secure. Don’t print it on your checks or even write it on them, if you can avoid it. Don’t use it as a password, and don’t carry it with you anywhere. Among the many numbers that are attached to your identity, this one is the one that can hurt you the most when it gets into the wrong hands. There are some situations where you are required to provide it, but don’t trot it out for anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary.
- Use only your computer, and use it smart. Sure, you can log in from anywhere, but you don’t know where that public computer has been. It may have viruses or spyware on it that will put your information at risk. Always get behind the security of your own home computer which, hopefully, you keep current with the latest operating system and the latest security software. And always log out of your financial accounts. If you just close the browser window, your account may still be active and vulnerable.
- Check your charges. It may not make for the most interesting reading, but those credit card statements you get need to be read every month. If anything looks like it doesn’t belong there, contact the card company immediately. If a statement doesn’t show up one month, that could be a sign that someone has changed your address. Again, call the lender as soon as you notice a statement is missing.
- Police your credit reports. As far as the financial world is concerned, you are who your credit reports say you are. So make sure your reports are accurate. Go to AnnualCreditReport.com to request a free annual report form each of the three largest credit bureaus.
- Don’t get caught in the Internet’s web. If you are getting on a site where your financial information is stored, close down any other sites you have opened or at least go to a different browser to open your account. Having multiple sites open while you manage your finances can make you vulnerable to a hacking technique called “session stealing.” You also want to be sure that your financial institution’s website is secure. Things to look for include an “https” address, which is more secure than just “http.” There should also be a key or closed padlock icon in the status bar.
One final word of warning: As popular as the cloud is for storage of the family’s photos, keeping your personal financial information there comes with an unnecessary level of risk. While encryption protections are usually provided, they are not immune to a skilled hacker’s attacks. Your hard drive, along with a back-up external drive, is likely to provide more peace of mind as a site for storing financial records, but you’ll also want to make sure access to your drives is password protected.
For our part as your banking partner, Emprise Bank is committed to the vigilant protection of your accounts from digital theft of any kind. Please contact us if we can ever be of any assistance with a question you have about the security of your financial data.