So…will you be paying with credit or debit?  How many times have you heard that before?  As consumers, I’d venture to say that we probably utilize credit card services on a daily basis.  Whether we’re buying groceries, shopping at our favorite clothing store, or simply going to an ATM, we are pushing our personal data and credit out into the world regularly.

Unfortunately, many well-known and respected companies have been in the middle of data breaches, which have put millions of consumers and their credit at risk.  I bet either you or someone you know has been the victim of identity theft, credit card fraud, or other ill-willed schemes.  Too many trusted individuals have fallen victim to the selfish, irresponsible and reckless behavior of those hoping to earn a quick buck.  Recently a client of mine was the victim of a terrible scam.   There was nothing I could do to help.   That feeling of helplessness prompted me to share a few tips with you.

So, how can we protect ourselves? We live in a technically savvy time, which affords us so many great benefits.  However, it can also threaten our financial well-being.  We need to navigate it as safely and responsibly as we can.  While there is no fool-proof way to guarantee our data will be completely secure, we can follow some simple rules.

  • Strengthen your passwords and update them regularly.

    Many companies are requiring a more complicated password methodology.   If it’s not already required, I’d recommend a password at least 8 characters long to include at least one uppercase and lowercase letter, symbol, and number.  Consider using pass phrases as well.   For example,

If your current password is: sunshine

Consider changing it to: Sunsh1ne!

Or change to a pass phrase such as: Ilovethesunshine

With numbers and symbols, this is even better:  Il0vetheSunshine!

Do not use common numbering sequences such as 123456, or 111111 as your passwords.   Include a password on your mobile device.  If possible, enable the Touch ID feature to engage an added level of security.

  • Do not open suspicious e-mails.

  • This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised at the number of authentic looking e-mails that “trick” people into opening them.    For example, if you receive an unsolicited e-mail that appears to be from your bank, showing the correct logo and no apparent signs of fraud, asking you to verify your data or anything by clicking a link or hot button, you might be inclined to respond.  Don’t do it!  This is a common way for hackers to capture your username and password.  Instead, go directly to the source.   Access your bank’s website directly, then follow the necessary steps to find the information that was contained in the e-mail.
  • Install an anti-virus software on your computer.

Many threats to consumers come through uninvited e-mails and advertisements.  If you have an anti-virus protection software loaded on your computer, it can help detect known viruses that could ruin your data.  Make sure to keep these programs updated
with the latest versions.

  • Use the most current versions of your operating system and programs.

  • If you are using weak or unpatched software, it could allow hackers to gain access to your system when on a network.  Keep your operating system and third-party software packages up to date.
  • Review your credit card statements regularly.

  • A few years ago, I was reviewing my credit card statement and noticed 4 large charges that took place half way around the country.  I knew immediately that these were not charges I had authorized.  I quickly called my credit card company and they helped to close my account, re-issue a new card, and most importantly, correct the charges on my card.  It’s important to notify your credit card as soon as you recognize any unapproved charges.  In addition, it’s a smart idea to notify your credit card company in advance of any travel plans you may have so they can appropriately flag your account to avoid any disruption.
  • Watch online purchases.

  • As part of your regular credit card monitoring, it may be beneficial to use one credit card exclusively for online purchases.  At a quick glance you’ll be able to more readily identify any unauthorized purchases.
  • Shred your sensitive documents.

  • If you still receive paper bills or bank statements, be sure to shred any documents that contain personal data such as account numbers.  Identity thieves can shuffle through trash looking for personal data to be used to access current information, or even open new credit cards in your name.
  • Be aware of unsecured and public Wi-Fi networks.

  • We’ve come to expect free wi-fi in many venues that we frequent.   You may not realize that not all of these networks are secure.  If you are using a computer that contains your personal data on an unsecured network, you have now made it available for hackers to gain access to all the information on your computer.
  • Don’t share too much.

  • We live in a time where sharing where we are, what we ate, and where we are going is fairly common.   Be careful not to share personal information that could be used to “authenticate” your identity.     For example, don’t include your address, phone numbers, and birthdays when you post on Facebook, Instagram or other social media sites.   Also, be aware that when you are letting your friends know you’re in Mexico vacationing on the beach, you’ve also just alerted the nearby home burglars as well.
  • And finally, there is a recently known scam involving the IRS.

  • False IRS representatives leave messages indicating that you owe money and a lawsuit may be imminent if you don’t resolve the situation immediately. Do not respond to these voice messages.  This is a scam.  To read more about it, click on the link below.   https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/tax-scams-consumer-alerts

Be diligent and share this information with others!   We don’t want to see anyone else become the victim of identity theft, credit card fraud or any other illegal scams.  You’ve worked hard for your money.   You deserve to keep it!

 

Securities and Advisory Services offered through The Strategic Financial Alliance, Inc. (SFA) – Member FINRA, SIPC.
This information is not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax, legal or investment planning advice as individual situations will vary.  The SFA does not provide tax or legal advice.