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How to Protect Your Personal Financial Information

Most of us have become dependent on the Internet and use it extensively for financial commerce, including shopping and banking.  But this presents threats to our personal information.  There are steps you can take to significantly reduce the chances your information will be compromised.  These include: 

1. Maintain strong computer security

If you conduct financial transactions online (shopping, sending/ receiving money, etc.), having personal computer firewalls and security software is a must.1Make sure you have anti-virus, spyware, anti-spam, and other important software programs that protect you from attacks by malware and viruses. Keep these programs activated and up-to-date (elect automatic updates when available).  Never do financial transactions over a public wifi.

2. Encrypt your financial information online

To safeguard your online transactions, you must keep your browser safe and secure at all times. This is possible by using encryption software to scramble any information you transfer through the Internet. Always check for a “lock” icon on your browser’s status bar before sending personal financial information. When the lock is present, you can trust that your information will be safe during transmission.

3. Use good PINs and passwords and keep them secret

Using strong passwords and PINs is critical to your online security.  Use passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols. You can also use pass-phrases instead of passwords because they are more complex to decipher. You may also opt to use two-factor authentication procedures for added security to your online accounts. Lastly, keep your passwords and login details to various accounts secret and secure.  Consider using a password manager like Dashlane to make this easier.  

4. Stay alert to impersonators

Your personal financial information is yours and yours alone to keep. You should only entrust it to your spouse or someone close to you.  There are many fraudsters both online and offline pretending to be someone else in order to gain access to your financial information. Never give out your personal financial information through mail, phone, or online unless you have initiated contact and you know the person you are dealing with.

It is always prudent to contact customer care of any company you are dealing with directly first through their trusted website or customer service number to confirm that they are indeed the ones who made the request for your financial information.

5. Safely dispose your personal financial information

For financial information that still comes in the mail, invest in a shredder to help you completely and securely destroy any information printed within your documents. For devices such as computers, laptops, and smartphones, get rid of any financial information stored on them by resetting them to their factory settings before disposal.  You can also check your device manufacturer’s website or browse through forums to find other ways to permanently delete information from your device.  Using an electric drill to drill into your hard drive before you dispose of a computer is also a good idea.  

6. Avoid over-sharing personal information on social networking sites

If you share too much personal information about yourself on social networking sites, an identity thief may use this information to answer certain ‘challenge’ questions to gain access into your online accounts and steal your money or personal financial information. Avoid posting your key personal details, such as addresses, phone number, and even your full name on social networking sites.

It is important to implement most of the protective measures listed above to protect your personal financial information, and prevent financial theft.  

1 http://www.finra.org/investors/alerts/keeping-your-account-secure-tips-protecting-your-financial-information