Losing your wallet or purse is a big hassle, but the same information can be accessed over the Internet by hackers, who steal your personal information and use it to access your banking or credit card accounts, or to open accounts in your name. To avoid identify theft, some take the extreme step of not conducting business online, but that is an impractical choice as online banking, bill paying and shopping saves consumers time and money.
Secure your financial information. Some people make it too easy for identity thieves to find and use their information. They forget to log out of bank accounts on public computers, use unsecured networks, or leave user IDs, passwords and mobile phones in areas easily accessible to opportunistic thieves. Keep all such information in a safe place, double-check to ensure that you've logged out after accessing an accounts, and use password-protected networks.
Keep your computer up-to-date and safe. You may not understand all the details of how to keep your computer free of viruses and malware, but there are plenty of experts who do. Many Internet providers provide some type of free anti-virus software you can download and use. Also, you can hire an Internet security specialist to safeguard your personal computer, laptop, tablet, smart phone and other devices. Be sure to ask around and do your homework to find reliable and trustworthy professionals, as they’ll have access to a lot of sensitive information on your devices.
Monitor your accounts regularly. Online banking and account access makes it very easy to review your accounts quickly on a daily basis. Many banks also you to do this through an automated system accessed by telephone. So take a few minutes to match up your transactions from the day before. Also, see if any strange stuff is happening, like transactions you didn't authorize or unexplained charges. If you notice anything, contact your bank right away and have the matter investigated. It doesn't take long for hackers to do significant damage.
Beef up your passwords. Strong passwords that you change on a regular basis can increase the safety of your accounts and transactions. A solid password usually has numbers, letters, and special symbols. You should also capitalize a letter or two to make it even harder for hackers to figure out. For example, the password ihaTehacKers7? meets all the password criteria and you can change the number every month or capitalize different letters. Also, don't use the same security questions on every website. For example, on one site your question may be your mother’s maiden name, but on another the name of your first pet.
- Never respond to offers via email. Always go to the site or verify any inquiries that appear to be from your bank. Your financial institution will never ask you to email or text an account number, Social security number or credit card number.
- Don't enter sensitive data on a non-secure website. Be sure the site uses encryption -- a form of enhanced data protection. You can tell this by looking at the web address, which should have an "https" instead of an "http" and some kind of lock icon.
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