We’re all guilty of it. We are prompted to create yet another password for an online account and we get sloppy and reuse an old password (or worse yet, we use the same password for everything). Or, we throw away a bank or brokerage statement in the trash instead of shredding it. It’s missteps like these that may seem harmless at first, but can end up causing a lot of headaches and frustration down the road in the form of identity theft or drained accounts. Below are a few tips to consider to keep your financial information secure.
Be diligent about collecting your mail regularly and putting a mail hold in place when you’re on vacation so that it doesn’t accrue in a mailbox that could be exposed. Things like bank statements, investment account statements, and credit card statements can be a treasure trove for scammers. Also, if you already access some of these accounts online, you may look to toggle your paperless settings if you wish to cut down on the amount of physical mail you receive. When it comes time to dispose of certain documents, investing in a decent paper shredder is worth it. Anything with personal information on it (like account numbers, DOBs, SSNs) should be properly shredded versus simply thrown in the trash. Lastly, please put your Social Security card somewhere safe (like a safe-deposit box or safe) and not in your purse or wallet. While that may seem obvious, you’d be surprised at how many people are guilty of doing this. Even Medicare cards no longer use your Social Security number. They switched to unique IDs in 2018.
Online banking and apps for smartphones have made many financial tasks a lot easier. What used to require you to physically go to a bank or financial institution can now be done with a few clicks. However, with the added convenience comes added risks. You should use strong, unique passwords on all banking and financial sites. That way, if your password is compromised on one website, the hacker can’t use it on additional websites as well. Data breaches happen and passwords are often exposed. That’s why you should be using unique passwords and changing them often.
Another way to add a layer of security is to enable two-factor authentication where available. For example, with two-factor authentication enabled, if you login to a website, a unique numerical code will be sent via text to your cell phone that you will need to type in before being granted full access to the website. It’s not 100% foolproof, but it’s an added step that a hacker would need to potentially overcome to gain access.
Lastly, be mindful of where and how you are accessing financial information. For example, it’s probably best not to access any financial websites on a public computer. You could inadvertently store your login credentials on the machine by mistake or forget to completely log out of the website. Even if you are using a personal device, you should be mindful of how you are accessing sensitive financial information. Public Wi-Fi networks may not be secure and could leave you exposed. When in doubt, it’s better to wait until you know you’re on a private, secure network before accessing any sensitive information.
Finally, please treat emails and phone calls (especially unsolicited ones) with a certain level of suspicion. Anyone calling to have you “verify” your credit card number is likely a scam. Email scams have gotten more sophisticated and may look real at first glance. Be wary of links in emails and only click them if you are 100% sure the email is from a legitimate source. Again, if you are unsure, call the number on your official bank, credit card, or financial institution statement and don’t call the number provided in the suspicious email.
There is no question that the world has become more digital and online. The choice of receiving paper or online information will most likely one day not even be a choice anymore. Taking precautions to protect not only the sensitive paper information you receive today, but also the electronic information you will increasingly receive in the future is more important than ever. It just makes sense to not make it easy to be an easy target.
Securities and Advisory Services offered through LPL Financial, a Registered Investment Advisor. Member FINRA/SIPC. LPL Financial and Croxall Capital Planning do not provide tax or legal advice. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.