Be on guard against 'vishing' and 'smishing'– phone- and text-based attempts to steal your information.
Cyberfraudsters are working around the clock to devise new ways to steal what is rightfully yours, often preying on the elderly or vulnerable members of our society. Although there are no ironclad ways to completely shield yourself from hackers, snoops and identity thieves, there are actions you can take to significantly lower your risk.
Here are eight quick tips to help protect you and your loved ones from unscrupulous fraudsters:
1. Choose smart passwords.
It may seem obvious, but using “password” and “123456” can open the door to hackers, yet they top the list of the most common passwords year after year. Rather, create passwords that are easy to remember, but difficult for others to guess, and change them every few months. It’s best to use the longest number of characters possible, and think about using a phrase that only you can guess instead of a single word.
To create a secure password, mix upper and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols – and don’t use your child’s birthday, your mother’s maiden name or your Social Security number.
Also, never use security questions that are common knowledge or easy for others to figure out.
2. Keep your passwords to yourself.
Don’t share your passwords with anyone. Also, never use public computers or unsecured Wi-Fi hotspots to log on to your bank or investment accounts.
3. Lock down your login.
While a complex password may effectively thwart most hackers, you can make it even harder to access your information by adding biometric authentication, such as fingerprint scans and facial recognition, or multi-factor authentication, such as a one-time passcode.
These protections are available from a growing number of online services, retailers and financial services firms.
4. Beware of social engineering.
Social engineering is the practice of using deception to trick people into providing information or performing an action they otherwise would not. “Phishing” is a ruse aimed at stealing your personal information or money through the use of fake emails that look like they are from a legitimate source. If a suspicious but sort-of-official-looking email lands in your inbox, delete it without responding and never click on a link or attachment. Similarly, be on guard against “vishing” and “smishing”– phone- and text-based attempts to steal your information.
5. Inventory your wallet.
If a thief picked your pocket, your first move would probably be to cancel your credit cards, notify your bank and get your driver’s license replaced. But can you be sure you’d remember every item, the numbers to call and online account information? Losing your wallet is traumatic enough without having to dig through old bills and account statements to straighten things out.
To be prepared, go through your wallet card-by-card and record the information you would need to report your loss, such as account numbers, card expiration dates and fraud phone numbers.
Keep a hard copy in a safe place; don’t save the information to your computer.
6. Shred first, then toss.
Identity thieves have many ways of accessing your personal information without even going online, from dumpster diving to purse snatching to mail theft. To avoid leaving a paper trail, shred sensitive documents, junk mail and old bills before discarding.
7. Don't leave your mobile device exposed.
Create a password for your home screen, download apps only from sources you trust, and update apps, programs, and your operating system as soon as updates become available. That way you’ll know you’re getting the most current protection against malware – software programs designed to infiltrate your device and steal your information. The same goes for your PCs, laptops, tablets, and other web-enabled devices. Be especially diligent when traveling – keep your devices under your control at all times.
8. Review account statements monthly.
As soon as they become available, check your account statements and healthcare benefits explanations for questionable charges. To protect your identity, you can place a fraud alert on your credit profiles so that lenders must contact you directly before establishing new credit in your name. Or, you can establish a security freeze to block unauthorized attempts to view your credit report. Contact the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion and Innovis) to discuss your options.
Keep Your Children & Elderly Adults Safe from Harm, Too
Children are increasingly becoming targets of fraudsters who seek to use their Social Security numbers to create synthetic identities, which thieves use to apply for bank accounts, credit cards, loans and more. Unlike an adult who may quickly learn their identity has been stolen, it can take years to discover a child has become a victim of identity theft.
Parents can proactively protect their children by limiting what they post online about them. Sharing too much information about your kids can set them up for future identity theft. To help protect your child’s identity, contact the major credit bureaus and request a security freeze on him or her. Doing so will block unauthorized credit inquiries, keeping fraudsters at bay.
Elderly adults have increasingly become victimized and targeted by “vishing” and “smishing” schemes as well. Cyberfraudsters tend to prey on less technology savvy elders, and are increasingly targeted by fraudsters as a result. Consider taking the same precautions with your elders as you do with your children to protect them from identity theft.