by Nayda Sadr-Panah
A large part of financial wellness includes protecting yourself from identity theft and fraud. It doesn’t happen to many people but the aftereffects of being a victim are harsh and could inconvenience you for the rest of your life. Shredding documents with sensitive information—such as bank statements, tax documents, documents containing your social security number, expired credit cards, anything with your address—is the most basic way to protect yourself from identity theft. Any documents with sensitive information that you keep at home should be stored in a locked, fireproof safe.
If you use online banking services you should be sure that all security measures (passwords, pin numbers, security questions) are in place and that the bank is FDIC insured. Here are my top five tips to keep your online accounts secure:
- Choose a password with letters, numbers, and symbols
- Do not use the same password for every account, as this allows would-be identity thieves to “daisy-chain” their way through your accounts and collect various pieces of personal information.
- Be sure to change your password every ninety days to protect yourself from being hacked.
- Keep your passwords stored in a safe place such as an encrypted application on your mobile device or computer. (Example: “Keeper” App, which makes it easy to store and organize your passwords.)
- Do not use the same security questions for every account
- Do not make online banking and social networking account (Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, etc.) passwords the same as social media accounts are frequently hacked.
Shopping online poses another risk. Be sure to do some research before you enter your card information if you are not familiar with the website. Check the Better Business Bureau or use a search engine to look up reviews. PayPal tends to be a safer method of online payment that still provides you with the convenience of using your card with the cushion of having a “middle man” involved in your transactions.
You are always at risk when you use your credit or debit card to make purchases. But it is 2014, and the plastic payment method is a way of life for many of us. Even the most trusted, secure of places are susceptible to a security breach. If we are at risk everywhere that we make a purchase with a card, how do we protect ourselves? Living in fear and paranoia are not options as there are plenty of tools to help you protect yourself. Here are some tips to remember:
- Banks and credit card companies are usually your first line of defense. Many times, the fraud department in these entities will contact you if they detect suspicious or fraudulent activity so there really is no need to purchase any additional fraud protection for any of your accounts.
- Banking online is also a good way to proactively monitor the transactions being made with your cards as long as you follow the security tips above.
- It is also good to monitor your credit report yearly. It generally costs money to get your credit score, but you are entitled to a free credit report every year. If you notice any discrepancies or irregularities on your credit report, you should report them immediately.
By taking the extra time out of your busy schedule to put all these security measures in place you could save yourself a lot of time and also money in the future. While identity theft does not happen as often as the media makes it sound, it still happens when you least expect it.
Nayda Sadr-Panah is a financial aid advocate for Hennepin Technical College.