Take Seven Simple Steps to Protect Your Finances and your Identity

There is no shortage of news stories itemizing Internet hacking schemes, credit card breaches and stolen usernames. The sad fact is millions of Americans have had their identities stolen (1). As technology continues to intersect our lives, how can we protect our finances and identities? Consider the following seven tips:

  1. Protect your plastic and your paper. Thieves love little tidbits about your finances, whether it's your address from an old statement or a few numbers off your credit card. Avoid overexposing yourself by keeping your statements and cards in a safe place. When going out, carry only the cards you plan to use that day, keeping your cards close to your body and not leaving them out for too long. It literally takes one to two seconds for someone to snap a picture of your card with a smartphone. If you still like your paper statements, avoid just throwing them into the trash; take the time to shred them every few months. Reviewing your receipts and statements regularly is the best defense for unauthorized charges.
  2. Review your credit report regularly. You don't have to apply for a loan or make a big purchase to review your credit score. Each year, hundreds of thousands of mistakes are made and not every mistake is corrected. Monitoring your credit report is a good way to pick up on mistakes and detect suspicious activity. Consider checking your credit score annually or semi-annually with any number of certified credit reporting companies.
  3. Protect your devices. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reports that mobile security threats have increased more than 350% since 2010 (2). Someone who gets a hold of your smartphone or tablet can easily obtain crucial information about you with just a few taps of their finger. Adding something simple like a password manager app and an antivirus app (available on both Apple and Android, free in some cases) protects your information and your device from malicious viruses. Protect your wireless devices with apps like Hotspot Shield, an app designed to encrypt wireless communication to protect the information you send into cyberspace.
  4. Be wary of solicitations. If someone calls out of the blue to warn you about a virus on your computer, or you receive an email about a warranty and it contains misspellings and grammatical errors—beware. In reality, it's likely they know nothing about your computer or any of your warranties. In 2013, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported phone solicitations accounted for 40% of all fraud complaints, while emails accounted for 33% (3). Similarly, a Harris/Nielsen survey revealed that phone scams affect around 17.6 million adults and cost Americans $8.6 billion a year (2). For example, Medicare discount drug card offers are a popular scam, typically targeted at seniors. If there is ever any question about the validity of a phone or email offer, take the time to contact the company directly using account or serial numbers from the original purchase to verify the offer. Also, add your number to the Do Not Call Registry (888-382-1222 or visit donotcall.gov), which will drastically reduce the amount of solicitations.
  5. Practice safe online activity. Only visit legitimate websites with a track record of safe business practices. Before purchasing anything online or entering any personal information, take note of the URL and hover over links to see where they lead. Verify the URL is spelled correctly, and has the letters https in the address bar (signifying the site is safe). Also, look for the little lock in the lower right corner of your browser when you're ready to make purchases. Never share any of your login information.
  6. Manage your passwords. We hear it all the time: Create a strong password and change it regularly. It really is that simple. Keeping the same password for all online accounts for an extended period of time could leave you and your finances susceptible to fraud. Regularly updating them and using multiple passwords is the best protection. If someone does get the information to one of your accounts, the problem is isolated to one account and not all of them. According to a survey conducted last spring by the Pew Research Center, only 39% of Internet users ever changed their passwords (4).
  7. Stay up to date. Keeping up to date with the latest operating system, software, web browsers, anti-virus protection and apps is the best defense against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Regular tabs on the news will help you to remain alert to viruses and scams and can aid in becoming a conscious and savvy consumer. Running regular scans and keeping up with scheduled maintenance will also help protect your identity and finances.

When it comes to investing, there's enough to focus on without falling victim to a scammer. Put these simple steps into practice and help protect what you have worked hard to build—your nest egg and your identity.

Sources

  1. Ozawa, Nancy. "More Than 12 Million Identity Fraud Victims in 2012 According to Latest Javelin Strategy & Research Report." Javelin Strategy. 20 Feb. 2013.
  2. Mannino, Naomi. "Identity Theft Statistics: Why You Should Be Alarmed." CreditDonkey. N.p., 31 July 2014.
  3. Mayer, Caroline. "4 Nasty Phone And Email Scams: How To Stay Safe." Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 29 Aug. 2014.
  4. Keller, Punam A. "Why We Don't Protect Our Passwords." Harvard Business Review. N.p., 15 Aug. 2014.

This information is general in nature and should not be construed as tax or legal advice. INVEST Financial Corporation does not provide tax or legal advice. Please consult your tax and/or legal adviser for guidance on your particular situation. The information in this report has been obtained from sources considered to be reliable but we do not guarantee that the forgoing material is accurate or complete. This article is not an offer to sell or a solicitation of an offer to buy any security, and may not be reproduced or made available to other persons without the express consent of INVEST Financial CorporationINVEST Financial Corporation, member FINRA/SIPC, and its affiliated insurance agencies offer securities, advisory services and certain insurance products. HEC13117 11/14

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