While banking security has certainly improved over the years, thieves, scammers and hackers still find ways to steal your personal information and gain access to your hard-earned funds.
In fact, according to a 2018 online survey by The Harris Poll, almost 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft. And, in 2017, $16.8 billion was stolen from 16.7 million victims of identity theft, according to the 2018 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research.
So, what can you do to safeguard your identity and finances against unscrupulous types? Here are eight steps you can follow to keep your money safe.
1. Change your passwords often
Keeping the same passwords across each of your bank, credit card, and email accounts for too long increases the risk of hackers accessing your information.
So, change your passwords frequently. Doing this at least once a month is recommended to keep your accounts safe and secure. If you find it hard to remember your passwords, try using a password generator/scrambler like Dashlane to create and organize your passwords. You can also store your passwords on a secure browser extension like LastPass.
Here’s another tip: Don’t store your passwords on your mobile device or laptop, says Nathan Grant, a credit industry analyst. While it may be convenient, if your device is stolen, your password is right there for a thief to use without having to lift a finger.
“Also, be careful not to enter any passwords or financial information on websites if the URL doesn’t have a secure ‘lock’ symbol or ‘https’ in the web browser address bar, especially on public networks,” says Grant.
2. Avoid using public WiFi and shared computers
Speaking of security, be careful before connecting to WiFi in a public place, say experts.
“Public WiFi is great for browsing the web, but you shouldn’t use it to log into your personal accounts and mobile banking apps,” says Adele Alligood of EndThrive.com.
“Doing so can make it easy for someone to intercept your login information and steal your financial data.”
Likewise, avoid sharing your computer or using a public shared computer (like one in a library) if you’ll be conducting banking or financial transactions. If you must do this, log off after your session is over — and, depending on your device, enable two-factor authentication when logging is.
How to tell if your connection is secure? There will be an image of a padlock next to the WiFi address or before the URL on your Web browser. And, if you have to access your bank app? Make sure the app you’re using is security encrypted — especially if you’re making payments.
3. Download anti-virus software
A computer virus is an inherent risk when using public WiFi. But even in private, you may be at risk if you don’t have a good antivirus software installed on your laptop or desktop.
“With a little research, you can choose which antivirus software is right for your computer,” says Justin Lavelle, a spokesman at BeenVerified.com.
“Antivirus software makes sure malicious software is detected and removed from your computer,” says Lavelle.
4. Use caution at the ATM
You can never be too careful at an ATM — even if you guard your debit or credit card carefully.
Lavelle says you should be mindful of criminals who use credit card skimmers. These are devices that can record your card’s information to then use that information to make unlawful purchases.
“Whenever you use a credit card reader, it is smart to inspect the device first,” he says.
“Look at the machine for scratches, ill-fitting parts or seals. Jiggle the machine as well as the PIN pad, or credit card insert. Most gas pumps, ATMs or vending machines are manufactured to be secure. Broken seals or loose parts may be an indication that the machine has been breached, and a skimmer has been installed.”
Lavelle says that most skimmers use Bluetooth technology, so one way to detect a skimmer is to use your smartphone.
“Turn on the Bluetooth pairing, and then see how many odd things pop up. It might just alert you to a skimmer.”
5. Watch out for “sidlers”
You should also exercise caution at busy public points of sale, since this is where thieves known as “shoulder surfers” are known to use stealthy methods to get the digits off your card.
“If another consumer is crowding you in line to pay, don’t be shy to ask them to please back up and give you space,” says Jim Angleton, president of AEGIS FinServ Corp.
“Yes, it seems a bit harsh; however, the vast majority of ‘sidlers’ are purposefully inching up to pretend to use their smartphone to look at email when they are really taking cellphone video of you entering your card and inserting your PIN.
Once they have the perfect photo, they go to their car and use a laptop and portable printer to create a blank card that looks just like your card. They can then go online and purchase a five dollar item to see if the card works. Once they have confirmation, they can then sell the fake card with your valid credit card number, explains Angleton.
Want to know how you can avoid this problem? Opt for merchants that accept mobile payments straight from your phone.
6. Never reveal your personal information
Guarding your bank account numbers or debit card digits isn’t just about hiding your details physically or behind passwords. Sometimes, ID theft involves revealing info to the wrong people.
“Emails and phone calls may seem official and important, but you should never give out your personal details unless you can verify, without a doubt, that it’s safe,” says Lavelle.
“Most retailers make it clear that they will never ask for your password, social security number, or other sensitive information by phone or email.”
Pro tip: Make sure your bank account offers added protection against hackers. Chime’s debit card, for example, comes with an instant block function to prevent unauthorized use of your funds. You can simply disable transactions through the Chime app.
7. Destroy your documents
In the event you want to get rid of old receipts and sensitive banking information, don’t just dispose of this in the trash. Thieves know no shame and will happily dumpster dive to find each piece of a torn-up document.
Instead, invest in a paper shredder that makes any document unsalvageable and unreadable. You can also bring your documents to a UPS, Staples or other local office supply store that offers low-cost document shredding services.
8. Check your credit report
When was the last time you checked your credit report?
Checking your credit report and score is essential so that you know where you stand with your credit. Getting a copy of your credit report will also reveal any erroneous information that could negatively impact your credit.
So, scour your report — everything from the spelling of your name, the amount of your loans and your credit accounts (both open and closed). If you find an inaccuracy, each of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) have simple steps you can take to dispute anything unfamiliar on your report.
And, here’s another layer of protection: Switch to a bank that will send you real-time text message alerts each time a transaction is made.
Stay Safe and Secure
Using these eight steps, you’ll be well on your way to safeguarding yourself and your finances in any scenario — whether you’re banking from your laptop at home, getting cash at an ATM, or shopping on your mobile device.