‘Tis the season to be jolly – and to buy special gifts online for family and friends! Many are in the giving spirit this time of year. But it can also be a dangerous time when it comes to protecting your private financial and personal information. In the last few years, the news has been full of stories about hackers stealing information from national retailers. Nationwide, some mortgage and title companies have experienced wire fraud attempts and security breaches.
Because banking, communication, and shopping (and nearly everything else we do) is done online, each of us must take steps to protect our personal information. Let’s explore how you can do that.
How to Keep Your Personal Information Safe Online
Although not a guarantee, these 7 tips will help keep your information safe online. Follow them – and info thieves won’t make your season less jolly.
1. Create Better Passwords
Strong and unique passwords for your bank, credit cards and laptop are critical to keeping would-be hackers at bay. You dog’s or spouse’s name, your favorite sports team or your birthday are not hard to predict. Chose a combination of upper and lower-case letters, numbers and symbols. Better yet, think of a “passphrase” – like a line of your favorite song or a title of a book – this is much harder to identify and can’t be researched online.
2. Turn On Two-Factor Authentication
Two-factor authentication offers a higher level of assurance that your credentials and resources remain safe. It uses a second factor (in addition to your regular password). This second factor is usually a security token, auto-generated password, or fingerprint to sign into an account. The process is easier than you might think and creates much stronger account security.
3. Be Cautious About Free Wi-Fi
The local coffee shop or airport layovers are great times to enjoy free internet access. Browsing is fine, but there’s no way to tell who is watching that internet traffic. In these instances, it’s best to limit what you purchase and avoid logging into any financial accounts like your bank or credit card accounts. Save those tasks for when you’re on a private network at home.
4. Limit Social Sharing
Sharing on social media is ubiquitous. Many people share very personal details of their lives online. It can even feel like a conversation with friends and seems harmless. But criminals who are looking to take advantage of you can mine your personal profiles for details they might use to hack your account. Dog’s and children’s names, birth dates, “checking in” at favorite restaurants, and alerting the world that you’re out of town can all be used against you. Another tip is to lock down your social media accounts by only sharing info with friends and family and changing the privacy settings. If that seems extreme to you, being choosy about what you share is a good place to start.
5. Close Out Old Accounts
Your first email address that you haven’t looked at in years? Hackers can gain access and gather information about you that’s tied to that account. Old emails may contain past bank statements or health care information. Those documents can help them steal your identity. If you aren’t using an account (and this goes for apps on your phone, too), it’s time to close them out for good.
6. Dispose of Personal Information Safely
When you get a new phone or computer, it’s easy to toss the old one in a drawer and not think about it again. However, your phone and computer contain a treasure trove of personal information, making it critical for you to delete information permanently before you dispose of the device or sell it. First remove the memory or SIM card, then delete your phone book, call list and messages. Don’t forget to clear the web search history and photos. Another non-digital tip: shred receipts, credit applications or offers, insurance forms, checks, or bank statements before throwing them in the trash.
There are other ways to protect your privacy and ward off potential breaches of your personal information, including being wary of any person or business who you suspect may not have a legitimate need for these details. Don’t let protecting your personal information be an afterthought you regret.
7. Confirm Security Before Giving Details
Before you share your information – whether that’s at work, over email, on the web, at your child’s school, or at a local business – ask why they need to know, who they intend to share it with (or not), and how they plan to keep it safe. Because who you trust matters. And the ultimate gatekeeper to your personal information is you.
Here’s to a joyful (and secure) holiday season!
At FirstBank Mortgage, we want to help our customers get to a better place – whether that’s in a new home or a new financial position. For more information, questions, or concerns, please call (855) 753-6209 to connect with a loan officer in your area.