Personal Cybersecurity Measures to Keep Your Information Safe
The digitization of everything has made modern life sweet. You can book flights, apply for a mortgage and order groceries from just about anywhere with the help of your smartphone. But carrying out so much of your life online has a downside, too: your sensitive personal data becomes more vulnerable to hackers. Fortunately, personal cybersecurity is easier and more affordable to establish for you and your family than you might think. There are a number of free and low-cost steps you can take to protect your data.
Here are some simple, effective steps you can take to protect your information.
Take Advantage of Your Bank's Security Features
Your bank account is one of the most sensitive accounts you own, so it's worth taking the time to keep it as secure as possible.
Pay attention to your bank's communications about scam alerts. They'll often publish information on their websites or email you about common theft schemes and current scams, so read up on these whenever possible. Then you'll know the warning signs and how to proactively prevent theft.
Set Up Account Alerts
When possible, set up account alerts for certain types and amounts of spending. Some credit card companies and banks often enable you to select spending limits above which they will email you to verify that you made the purchase. If you have the bank or card company's app on your smartphone, you may also be able to set up push notifications so you know every time a purchase is charged to the card.
Use a Password Manager
If you're still using one password for all of your accounts, you're at high risk of being hacked — especially if that password is something that can be easily guessed. Passwords that include common words and references, like "love" or a favorite celebrity's name, are highly vulnerable to hacking. Even if you've attempted to create a challenging password, one with a combination of numbers and letters, it may be less secure than you think, as these often fall into the kind of patterns that hackers can identify.
A password manager enables you to generate complex passwords that use a combination of letters, numbers, and special symbols that are much harder to crack. You don't have to think up the passwords on your own; the program will do it for each site you include in your account. To access your passwords, you'll use a single master password — the only one you need to remember. The password manager may offer an auto-fill option, so you don't have to log-in every time you visit your go-to sites.
Complexity matters for security questions as well. Instead of setting the answers to "What is your childhood best friend's name?" and "What is your mother's maiden name?" to the true answers, input complex strings of numbers and letters because the real answers are easy to guess or find.
Watch Out for Scams
Be cautious about how you communicate with your bank as well. Scammers will sometimes contact account holders via phone calls or text messages, pretending to be the bank and asking for identifying information that can then be used in identity theft schemes or fraudulent account creation. One scam, in particular, that you should be aware of is Caller ID spoofing, in which you receive calls from a fake caller ID — often posing as a trusted entity — in an attempt to obtain financial information. When this occurs, don't answer the text or call. Instead, call the bank with the number listed on the back of your card or on their official website. They'll be able to confirm what is legitimate and what isn't.
You can also avoid being hacked by only logging into the bank's website if it shows a green lock next to the URL, which indicates that it's encrypted.
Check Your Credit Score and Report Regularly
You can request annual credit reports for free from the three credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). While these reports don't show your credit score, they give you a chance to see all of the accounts documented on your record and to spot any inaccuracies or signs of fraud. Credit card companies and budgeting tools may offer options to check your credit score monthly, allowing you to see any changes that could point to a breach.
Make it a habit to review your bank account statements as well. Many banks offer mobile apps now, so you can log in daily or at least weekly to review your recent transactions. The more often you check, the sooner you'll catch any fraudulent activity and be able to shut it down.
What to Do If You've Been Involved in a Breach
If you learn that your data was exposed during a cybersecurity breach, there are steps to take to secure your accounts and your personal data. Here's what you need to know:
- For Credit and Debit Accounts: Notify your bank immediately if you believe that your information has been breached or that your cards have been stolen. They may offer an account locking feature to stop all activity on your card. Change your username and password to prevent hackers from accessing additional information and accounts. You'll also want to review your credit report and account statements for any accounts you didn't open or other suspicious activity.
- For Personal Data: When you find out you've been part of a breach, place a security freeze with the three credit bureaus as well. A security freeze prevents creditors from seeing your file, so if someone is trying to open new accounts in your name, they won't be able to. This gives you time to review account activity and change your log-in information without worrying that identity thieves are setting up new accounts that could hurt your credit and jeopardize your finances.
The number one principle for your personal cybersecurity is staying vigilant. Data breaches are on the rise, and identity thieves operate at all levels. By being diligent in your communications with your bank, using the security options available to you and monitoring your account activity, you'll be able to prevent data theft and respond swiftly when it does happen.