The health of your personal finances is the result of years of hard work, sacrifice, and strategy. However, it can be disturbingly easy for your efforts to be upended by the actions of criminals.
Often this isn’t a case of hackers gaining widespread access to the financial institutions you happen to be utilizing. Rather, they’re more likely to breach your finances by stealing your personal information.
An understanding of identity theft is one of your most powerful tools to prevent unauthorized access to your finances. This includes educating yourself on the warning signs of a breach and the most appropriate agencies to report issues to.
This said, it is always better to put solid preventative measures in place to protect your data. Your commitment to regularly implementing secure activities can help give you the best chance of keeping your information and your finances secure.
We’re going to explore a handful of actions you can take to protect your personal information in ways that protect your personal finances in turn.
Solid Password Practices
Solid password practices might seem a basic step, but it’s also one of the most important. It’s also worth noting that too many people treat this aspect of security without the seriousness it requires. Cybercriminals are using increasingly sophisticated tools, such as artificial intelligence (AI) to guess passwords. Nevertheless, people’s insecure behavior is their most powerful tool. As such, you should maintain solid password practices to protect your data and finances.
One basic step to secure your log-ins is to ensure you’re not using the same password for multiple accounts or websites. If you ignore this, you’re potentially giving a cybercriminal free rein over your accounts if they gain access to only one of them.
Make sure each of your passwords is as different from one another as possible. Don’t forget to utilize a good combination of letters, numbers, and symbols. If you find it hard to remember complex passwords, it can be a good idea to utilize a secure and reliable password manager service.
Alongside complex and varied passwords, it’s worth your time to put up another log-in barrier against cybercriminals. Many websites, particularly finance and shopping services, offer multi-factor authentication.
This means that whenever your password is entered into a log-in page, a message is sent to your mobile device with a unique, time-limited code. Anybody trying to gain access to your accounts will need to enter this code before proceeding. It’s important to opt-in to multi-factor authentication on as many accounts as possible.
A lot of focus is placed on protecting your online financial and personal information. There are certainly good reasons for this. After all, online services are becoming the primary way for people to interact with and organize their finances.
However, it’s important to remember that identity thieves can gain access to your personal information from physical objects. Usually, this is the result of failing to utilize responsible disposal practices.
Just because you might find it abhorrent to go through someone else’s trash, don’t make the mistake of thinking criminals are averse to this. As such, it’s important to shred documents that contain personal details before moving them to your recycling.
This shouldn’t just be your statements from financial institutions, pay stubs, or tax records, either. There are various seemingly innocuous documents you need to shred, as these can still be used to steal your identity.
Junk mail, particularly unsolicited credit card applications, can contain significant compromising information. Vacation documents like old boarding passes, passport scans, and car rental information can also be used against you. Shredding these minimizes their potential breach value.
Alongside important documents, you also need to adopt responsible device disposal practices. Old smartphones, laptops, and tablets can give people access to a wide range of personal and financial information. Start by logging out of all applications and uninstalling as many as possible.
Remember that simply deleting your personal files isn’t usually enough, as they can still be recovered. Utilize a professional service to wipe and destroy the hard drive and any other onboard storage media.
One of the most powerful ways you can protect your personal information and safeguard your finances is by educating yourself. Many people have some idea online identity theft occurs and perhaps that this is the result of viruses. However, gaining more insights into the techniques used empowers you to behave more effectively.
A lot of people are aware of the presence of ransomware and malware but aren’t clear on how these enter their systems. In many cases, both breach a device when someone clicks on a link and downloads infected files.
They usually receive this link via a phishing email, which may appear superficially legitimate. In fact, the email is often disguised as being from a bank or another account warning the customer that they’ve been the victim of a scam. As such, consumers panic and click on the link they believe will resolve the issue.
The methods criminals utilize are developing at a similar pace to the rest of our digital landscape. As the future of personal finances is undoubtedly digital, you need to be increasingly vigilant.
The U.S. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency maintains a list of current alerts, common threats, and tips for dealing with them. Importantly, speak to your key financial institutions about what problems customers have been facing.
They should also be able to provide you with information about what legitimate emails from them look like so you can avoid phishing scams.
In the wrong hands, your personal information can give criminals access to your financial accounts. As such, it’s important to take precautions to protect your data.
Utilize strong password protocols and multi-factor authentication processes. Dispose of both documents and devices in a secure fashion. Keeping yourself educated about the current breach methods can empower you to take adequate precautions.
You’ve worked hard to build your financial well-being, it’s worth taking the time to keep it secure.
Dan Matthews is a freelance writer with a penchant for financial wisdom and solid research. You can find him on Twitter @danielmatthews0 and LinkedIn.
Josh founded Money Buffalo in 2015 to help people get out of debt and make smart financial decisions. He is currently a full-time personal finance writer with work featured in Forbes Advisor, Fox Business, and Credible.