3 Ways To Protect Your Financial Data
Recent retail foibles have us all a bit on edge about our personal data. High-profile security breaches at Target and on SnapChat remind us it can happen anywhere, to anyone. It leaves us marveling a bit (not in a good way) at how a simple transaction can cause a great deal of angst in the weeks after it.
“I never go to Target,” one friend said at a post-holiday party to me. “But I did just before Christmas. Not even for gifts, but for shampoo. And I used my debit card.
“So now, I’m checking my statement every day, calling about the balance, hoping the bank is also keeping an eye out for me …”
Retailers and social-media administrators work hard to protect your data, and breaches like the ones Snapchat and Target recently experienced are nightmares for those entities. The problem is, hackers and scammers work just as hard to beat the system and get to your data.
There’s no such thing as “hacker proof,” it turns out.
Here’s what happened
Hackers accessed data for as many as 40 million credit and debit cards used at Target locations in December, including encrypted data that contained personal identification numbers. Target claims the PIN data is not at risk, but cybercrime experts still warn against potential of risk.
Action: Target offers free credit monitoring for those who might have been affected by the breach. If you were affected, that’s not much help now, but at least you’re protected from another attack.
This photo-messaging app predicated on privacy – messages disappear after they’re seen – was breached with a “find friends” feature that revealed data for 4.6 million users. Although this breach had no financial implications, the compromise was of concern to many SnapChat customers.
Action: Site administrators issued a new version of the app that allowed users to opt out of the “find friends” feature.
Here’s what you can do to protect yourself
Here are three things you can do today to help keep yourself a step ahead of the bad guys.
1. Register for free credit monitoring
Companies such as Credit Karma will protect against identity theft and unauthorized purchases. It monitors your credit nightly, and sends an email if anything unusual appears, including new accounts opened in your name. Credit Karma also safeguards against inaccurate credit reports.
Bonus: In the market for financial services? Credit Karma also offers consumer reviews for credit cards, mortgages and insurance purchases too.
2. Protect your data—physically and online
Your social security card should never live in your wallet. Also, your passwords and usernames shouldn’t be kept on a piece of paper, in your wallet, car or home. Never give out your social security number to anyone who calls you and claims they’re from your financial institution.
Banks, credit card providers, and utility companies will never do that. In the wake of the Target breach, companies like Verizon and Wells Fargo have even proactively notified their customers that they never solicit information via email or phone call.
Bonus: Multi-platform app LastPass manages and encrypts passwords across all your services.
3. Set up mobile alerts
Some financial institutions, such as Citizens Bank, offer mobile alerts of any account activity. These services will send you a message if your account balance dips below a specified amount, signal a check clearance, and even send your five most recent transactions on a schedule you set.
Most national banks and large credit card companies offer similar services, so take advantage of them.
Bonus: Consider changing your debit card’s PIN number on biannually or annually, or if you suspect your information was released in a breach like Target’s. Although PIN information is encrypted once you enter it on the keypad, it’s good peace of mind to actively change the first wall of defense from someone withdrawing money in your name from an ATM.
4. Protect your network
Keep your electronic data safe from prying eyes at home by securing your WiFi network. Many Internet providers include wireless routers with their service. Setting a protected network is easy, and worth the five minutes spent.
Data stored on the cloud is vulnerable to hackers. Massachusetts Institution of Technology researchers have developed protection against hacks to memory-access pattern analysis (the means by which computers store and access data) by broadcasting false information to remote server data requests.
Bonus: When you don’t have other people jumping on your wireless service, you could experience faster speeds. Lock up that wireless signal!
By Alexis Caffrey
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