Staying Safe in Cyberspace
‘Tis the season for New Year’s Resolutions and one of mine is doubling down on my efforts to keep my personal information safe online. Janet Yellen, chair of the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System recently reported to Congress and told them that cyber security is among the “most significant risk(s) our country faces.”
Ladies, take heed.
The nightly news is always peppered with news of data breaches and episodes of hacking. It is easy to start to take these incidents in stride….accepting your new debit card when your bank assesses that your financial information has been put at risk…and moving on without further question.
Here’s a sobering thought. For the first time this year, online shopping has exceeded brick-and-mortar retail. So, it could be deduced that your risk for suffering from an identity theft incident increases every year.
Make 2017 the year that you increase vigilance and protect your information online. Here are some easy places to start.
FIRST. BE SKEPTICAL.
Your Mother always told you, if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. If there is a promise for a big shopping gift certificate in exchange for some simple information, it’s likely a scam. If you’re being told to click on a link to collect your reward…IT’S LIKELY A SCAM.
So what happens if you take the bait? You very well may be giving thieves access to any/all of the information stored on your computer (credit card numbers, social security information, etc.) My recommendation? Proceed with extreme caution and do not engage online with unrecognized sources.
Always Ask: Who Is Asking?
Only give out your financial information over the phone, via mail or on the internet if you’re the one who has initiated contact. Remember that no valid company – not one – will ever ask for your information unsolicited.
If a company DOES ask you for your information, do NOT click on or visit any internet link that the company in question presents online. Instead, pick up the phone and call customer service to ask if that company really sent a request.
ENCRYPT YOUR DATA.
Encryption is essentially a tool that scrambles all of your data before it is sent through cyberspace. This means that anyone who might intercept your information on the interwebs will be unable to read it/use it. There are a large number of encryption tools out there and for a small fee, you can download them to ensure that all of your data is automatically encrypted on your computer.
If you don’t want to do that, then the bare minimum is only sending your financial information through sites that are already encrypted. How can you tell if this is true? Look up in your browser window – if there is a lock icon in the browser that means that the site is safe and you can send your financial information to the company in order to make a purchase, etc. No lock icon? Then do not send your personal information. Period.
GET SERIOUS ABOUT YOUR PASSWORDS.
I know. It’s hard. Everyone has so many passwords these days, but it is so important to stay vigilant. Do not use the same password everywhere. Do not use easily guessable passwords. (Birthdates, children’s names, and more are just too easy to guess, even by a perfect stranger.)
Computers often come with their own password encryption tools (such as Apple’s Keychain) but even those can be hard to keep track of. It might make me sound like a luddite, but I keep all my passwords in a little black book, written in pencil, and hidden in my home. This allows me to keep my passwords complicated and hard-to-guess while also impossible to penetrate online.
Should you chose to keep your passwords on your computer DO NOT keep them in a Word or Excel document. This is too easily compromised. The last option is to purchase a password protection service like SplashID.
Keep Your SSN Secure.
The choice to share your Social Security Number is always yours. If someone asks you for your number, be sure to ask them why they need it and how they will protect it. Employers and those who need to check your credit will need your SSN. Everyone else, however, should have an alternate method for keeping your information within their system that is not connected to your full SSN.
BE THOUGHTFUL ABOUT YOUR DEVICES.
There is nothing more exciting about upgrading to a new phone or computer – but remember how much personal information you have in your computer before you hand it over to a stranger.
If you’re getting a new phone, and choosing to turn in the old one, do not let the store “wipe” your old phone. Instead, do it yourself. Remove your SIM card and complete a factory re-install. At the bare minimum, remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.
If you’re getting rid of your computer, use a utility wipe program to overwrite the entire hard drive. (AFTER backing up the information that you need, of course!)
JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN GET ONLINE…
It is so exciting to live in a mobile, on-demand society where you can get online at anytime, anywhere. But. That doesn’t mean you should. When you’re using a public WiFi network…say in an airport or in a public library…do not visit sites that keep sensitive information such as a bank website. Because you’re on public WiFi, anyone could be watching and you are not protected.
Companies listed are not affiliated with LPL Financial.