10 Tips to Protect Your Money for Cyber Security Awareness Month
Want to hear something really scary this Halloween season? If you don't keep your information safe online, scammers will be able to steal your identity and drain your bank accounts.
October is the season of goblins and ghouls, but it’s also National Cyber Security Awareness Month! Launched in 2004 by the Department of Homeland Security and the nonprofit National Cyber Security Alliance, National Cyber Security Awareness Month is an opportunity to brush up on your personal security measures.
With more and more of our financial information and transactions being handled online, staying smart about protecting your data can help protect your money from evil scamming forces.
Unlike goblins and ghouls, these evil-doers have the advantage of being real. With that in mind, here are ten handy tips to get you started.
1. Protect Your Login.
You probably already know that you should have unique passwords for the different sites you regularly visit. But don’t just rely on a password to protect you online. The organization Stop.Think.Connect offers lots of good advice on Lock Down Your Login.
Consider using free two-step authorization, biometrics (fingerprint or facial recognition) or a security key device for logging in, especially when dealing with financial transactions online.
And remember: when it comes to your passwords, something that’s easy to remember is probably also something that’s easy to steal. The same goes for security questions.
2. Connect with Care.
If you’re doing any online banking or shopping, check the URL of the site. If it doesn’t have https:// or “shttp://” in the address, it’s not a secure site.
If you’re using Wi-Fi hotspots, make sure you check security settings to ensure nobody else can access your machine. Or just wait to conduct business online until you know you’re on a secure Network.
Similarly, many scammers will try to funnel you “cloned” version of real sites through email phishing scams. Instead of clicking the links they send you, go to the website yourself through your web browser.
3. Don’t Press “Send” on Your Social Security Number.
Never send your Social Security number or any other sensitive account information via email, even if you trust the recipient. Not only is email a favorite tool of modern-day scammers, but having your social security number in some else’s inbox means that if they get hacked, your information could be compromised as well.
If an employer or someone else really needs that information, provide it in person or through “snail mail.” If you must email it, do so with an encrypted file. Your employers also shouldn’t be sending you tax documents via email.
Back in 2016, John Patrick Pullen of Time Magazine wrote an informative piece about why email is so dangerous for protecting your Social Security information in 2016. Check it out to learn more.
4. Streamline Your Inbox.
Even if you think you’re being careful about not sending sensitive information online, you might have old emails hanging out with that personal data available.
It’s a good idea to clean out your inboxes anyway, so make a special point of checking for anything that might have Social Security numbers, bank account numbers or other information that financial fraudsters might find tempting.
Delete and then empty the trash.
5. Keep a Clean Machine.
Make sure your security software, web browser, and operating system are all updated. This will lessen the threat from hackers and phishing operations.
And also make sure to use security software to scan USBs or other external devices connected to your computer so you don’t pick up any malware or viruses.
We know that getting constant messages to update your system is annoying. We don’t like it either. But taking the time to update and reboot your computer and your smartphone is worth it.
6. When In Doubt, Don’t Click.
If you get any emails or messages on social media sites such as Facebook that strike you as suspicious, delete and trash them without opening any links.
This is especially true if it purports to be from a family member in need. The Federal Trade Commission has a whole page dedicated to these fake emergencies, also sometimes called “the grandparent scam” (presumably because elderly relatives are more susceptible).
Don’t let the scammer prey on your emotions by inventing a false sense of urgency. If you’re really worried about a loved one, call to find out if anything is happening before you provide financial information online or over the telephone.
Even better, ask that they call or Skype you. The last thing a scammer wants to do is blow their cover by letting you see their face/hear their voice. If your loved one refuses to hop on a call, it’s almost certainly a scam.
7. Share With Smarts.
In the age of social media, we all put up lots of photos and tidbits about ourselves. But try looking at your posts from the perspective of a thief. Make sure that nothing like old bank statements or any documents containing sensitive data end up in your photos.
And that’s not the only way that photos can get you in trouble. You should also be skeptical of images people use to identify themselves online. Oftentimes, a quick reverse image search using Google Images will reveal whether or not that smoking hot dude you’re flirting with online is actually five weaselly scammers trying to steal your info.
8. To App or Not To App.
If you’re adding a new app to your phone or tablet—especially one related to financial management or shopping—check the security protocols first.
Reputable banks and businesses should have that security information readily available for you. If it isn’t, or if you have any other doubts, skip that download.
9. Avoid Suspicious Websites.
If you’re on a site with poor design and multiple pop-ups, it’s not only annoying. It could be a clue that the site isn’t legitimate. If you still have to order something from such a site, Kimberly Palmer of U.S. News & World Report suggests that you use a credit card and not a debit card.
As she notes, “Most credit cards have strict fraud protections in place. If a thief gains access to your checking account through a debit card, though, he could steal your savings.”
We’re not often in the business of telling people to use credit cards instead of debit cards, due to the increased risk of racking up high-interest debt. But when it comes to online shopping, by all means, use your credit card—just make sure you pay it off immediately.
10. Own Your Online Presence.
This tip also comes courtesy of Stop.Think.Connect, and it provides a macro blueprint for thinking about how your information zips along in our digital world.
As they put it, “Personal information is like money. Value it. Protect it. Information about you, such as your purchase history or location, has value—just like money. Be thoughtful about who gets that information and how it’s collected through apps and websites.”
Online shopping and banking operations aren’t going away. If you’re smart and conscientious, shopping and banking online needn’t be a scary experience. But always be sure to weight momentary convenience against the dire implications of having your identity stolen and your bank accounts drained.
We’re sure you’ll make the right decision. Now have a happy National Cyber Security Awareness Month! Don’t get scammed by any ghouls!
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