It’s possible to do almost all your shopping and banking from wherever you happen to be with online and mobile devices. However, as recent events show, it’s always better to be proactive about protecting yourself when using this kind of technology. Hackers and scammers often target the same devices to steal from unsuspecting victims.
But there are steps you can take to can help guard your personal information and hard-earned cash:
1. Protect your device
Not shielding your smartphone, computer or tablet is like leaving your car open with the keys in the ignition. Lock out hackers by updating firewalls, antivirus and antispyware programs as well as upgrading browsers and operating systems to the latest versions.
2. Create powerful passwords
It may be tempting to stick with easy passwords, but that’s just what hackers are hoping you’ll do. Keep them guessing by creating strong, unpredictable passwords. This means avoiding using your name, birthday, hobbies or anything else personal, and including numbers, symbols and upper- and lowercase letters. Each account used should have its own unique password, and, for maximum security, change all passwords frequently.
3. Beware of public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi available at cafes and shopping centers may seem like a gift, but public networks can be an invitation for cyber thieves to hack accounts you’re logged into to steal passwords and personal info. Protect your privacy by using only secure, password protected private networks for shopping, banking and other financial transactions. If you must shop or bank from public areas, consider downloading a VPN, or virtual private network, program that masks your online address and encrypts, or scrambles, your information to protect it.
4. Use only secure websites
Just because a website looks modern and attractive doesn’t mean it’s safe. When banking or shopping, be sure to only use secure sites that encrypt personal information. To determine if a site is secure, look for a web address beginning with https and a closed padlock icon in the address bar. Financial institutions generally have top security for online and mobile banking, but when shopping it makes sense to stick with well-known or familiar retailers.
5. Adopt safe online habits
A few smart habits can go a long way toward preventing fraud:
- Don’t share sensitive personal information on social media.
- Sign up for account activity alerts, and monitor statements and credit reports regularly to catch and report fraud early.
- For maximum fraud protection, use credit cards over debit cards when shopping online.
- Download software only from trusted sites.
- Be alert for email scams that appear to come from familiar sources, often referencing a fictitious problem with your account. Never click on the links supplied or reveal any passwords, account numbers or identifying data.
Many financial institutions, including Aspire Federal Credit Union, offer their members a discount on identity theft protection services that monitor credit, medical and financial information security to protect you and your family.
Just taking these few simple measures can greatly increase your online security, but sometimes fraud happens despite the best of precautions. If you find yourself victimized, report the problem immediately to the business involved as well as the Federal Trade Commission to help repair the damage and prevent future crimes.
Roberta Pescow, NerdWallet