Here’s the reality: people are always lurking in the shadows to get your money.
No, not the literal shadows, but the virtual ones.
If you’ve been keeping up on the news cycle, it seems every few months there’s a new data breach.
Between Target, Home Depot, Uber, Equifax, and others, it can feel like our personal data is constantly being exposed.
Database breaches and identity theft are two realities we have to deal with, and as technology evolves, so does the abilities of hackers.
With access to our data, scammers can clean out our banking accounts, furnish their house using our credit card info, and apply for new credit in our name.
The impacts of this can be broad, and cleaning it up can be a real pain in the ass.
As overwhelming as that sounds, we must continue to do as much as we can within our powers to not look like an “easy mark”, and deter hackers from our info.
No matter what, you’ll never be able to fully protect yourself from the low-lives that try to scam their way into your pocket. But, you can greatly reduce the risk by practicing some basic precautions.
Here’s 9 tips you can implement to lower the risk of your financial accounts being hacked.
1. Check your money regularly
You MUST get into the habit of checking up on your money on a regular basis. For one, it’s just good to know what exactly is going on with your money at all times as this will strengthen your relationship with it. After all, it’s *your* money, so you need to know what’s going on. But also, keeping a regular eye on it will make it super easy to detect any shady activity. If someone was to hack your credit/debit card and make bogus transactions, time is of the essence for you to address it. Some institutions may still hold you partially financially accountable for erroneous transactions if you wait too long to report it. So, it’s crucial to stay on top of what’s going on.
I log into my banking apps DAILY and review pending and cleared transactions. This helped me to spot fraudulent activity earlier in the year on my credit card. By acting swiftly, I was able to get it all cleared up and have a new card sent out in the same day.
2. Avoid using public WIFI networks for personal banking
If you are sitting at the local Panera or Starbucks, it’s probably not a good idea to be doing your personal banking on their public WIFI. That’s not to say you can’t trust them, but you would really have no idea if another customer managed to hack and intercept their WIFI network. By signing into your personal banking sites on a public WIFI network, you might be giving a hacker your personal username and password if they were able to intercept the data transfer.
We all use public networks from time to time, especially at coffee shops and airports, but just be conscious of *what* you are doing on their network. If personal activity that involves your sensitive information can wait until you are on a private network, then wait.
3. Understand how your bank communicates
I don’t know about you, but my bank doesn’t randomly call, email, or ask me to submit sensitive information via email. That is something that I understand about my bank, and you should do the same. If you get a phone call from someone claiming to be from your bank, don’t provide any sensitive information. If it feels fishy or you are unsure of the validity of the caller, then hang up. Look up the actual number of the branch, and then call them back to verify the caller/purpose.
Also, watch out for phishing attempts through email. This is when an email or portal appears to be from your banking institution, but is actually a fake page/portal set up by a scammer. The email could entice you to log in to the fake page, and then steal your info. Again, if you are unsure of any correspondence you receive, simply call your bank and ask them to verify the correspondence.
4. Always “log off”
Whether you are at home, or in public, always log off and out of your personal financial accounts when viewing online. By now, it’s a precaution that most sites and apps will automatically log you off after a set time limit of inactivity, but just be proactive about logging off just in case.
5. Regularly change passwords
If you’ve had the same banking passwords since “The Mannequin Challenge” was trending, I think its time for a change. Now, I get it, keeping up with the password to every little website is annoying, but regularly changing financial site passwords is a simple and proactive measure to keep people off your coins. And yes, we often use facial and voice-accessible sign in methods for apps, but if someone else hacked your password, they could still potentially do a lot of damage through website access.
Try not to repeat your passwords for multiple banking institutions and don’t forget to get creative! Upper case, lower case, special characters, and even hints of your fondest memory, or a phrase in acronym-form can be used. “I love tacos” as “iLt” used within a 10-character password could be effective. Unless of course everyone knows you love tacos and could guess that in your password, but you get the point.
6. Consider using a credit freeze
Credit freezes restrict access to your credit so you, or anyone else can’t apply for new credit in your name. This is great if you don’t plan on applying for any credit any time soon. Just don’t forget to take it off if you need to apply for credit as a freeze literally will stop an application in its tracks. To freeze your credit, you will need to contact *each* of the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, Experian) and request a freeze. It’s free!
7. Set up banking alerts
Despite the horribly grim picture I painted at the beginning of this post about people trying to steal your money, it really is becoming more convenient to protect yourself. Between email, text alerts, and even phone call notifications, most institutions have a variety of ways to alert you of forgotten, or even shady activity.
I personally get an email whenever any checking account transaction is pending or posted. That goes for automatic mortgage payments, or even a $5 ATM withdrawal. Yea, it can become annoying to get regular notifications, especially if you have multiple bill pay transactions, but I rather be over-communicated with than under, when it comes to my money. This way, if I see activity I don’t recognize, I can act quickly. Take advantage of the technology we have!
8. Don’t be stupid on social media
I would hope I wouldn’t need to say this, but don’t go around posting screen shots or images of your financial activity. That goes for statements, checks, or anything else. Even if you feel the urge to “humble brag” that you reached a new milestone in your emergency fund savings, just type that. You don’t need to screen shot your bank account to prove to us that you hit that milestone. Also, don’t broadcast where you bank, and be careful of posting anything that may refer to any financial institution account numbers. Even if some of the characters were replaced with an “X”.
I am sorry if I insulted your intelligence, but you would be surprised at some of the personal financial info people have posted online, or thought was cropped out.
9. Shred financial statements you no longer need
We all do paper purges from time to time, right? You know, when you go through your big box of old statements and toss them. Well, at least you should be doing this. But, before you just bulk dump them in the trash, shred them first. People still “dumpster dive” and rummage through trash to find pieces to your personal financial puzzle, so be proactive about destroying it.
You can either buy a shredder, or attend community shredder events, but either way, destroy personal documents you no longer need.
You will never be able to 100% shield yourself from identify theft, but you can definitely make it harder for a shyster to hack you.
Practicing simple precautions can deter a hacker from wasting their time on you, while providing you added peace of mind in the process.
What are some of your favorite methods for protecting your financial privacy? You can share in the comments below.