9 ways to protect your financial information from ID theft

July 1st, 2016 Kari Nelson
9 ways to protect your financial information from ID theft

Just like budgeting or retirement planning, identify theft is one of those money management tasks that most people know they need to pay attention to, but many brush it off for another day. Sure – identity theft is a big problem, but what are the chances it will actually happen to you?

This attitude can be dangerous – especially since the vulnerability for ID theft lies with you, the customer. It’s important to protect yourself while you’re online. And it doesn’t have to take lots of time or effort. Here are 10 critical steps you can take to safeguard your financial accounts to prevent identity theft.

1. Use strong pins and passwords.

It can be tempting to use a simple password, or one that you use for other online accounts, for your online banking password. This can be a dangerous habit to get into. It’s much easier for someone to discover your password, hack into your account, and cause all kinds of serious problems if you recycle existing passwords, or utilize simple (i.e. Password1) phrases.

If your bank truly cares about your security, you’ll be asked to create a password that utilizes uppercase and lowercase letters, as well as digits or symbols. It may be harder to always remember your new password, but your account will be much more safe and secure. And in the long run, you’ll be much happier!

2. Avoid unsecure or public Wi-Fi networks.

Places like libraries, restaurants, coffee shops and hotels are hotspots for stealing electronic data. Be sure to turn off the Wi-Fi auto-connect feature from your phone, tablet, laptop and other devices so it doesn’t automatically connect with an open network. You should also disable your Bluetooth connectivity when it’s not in use.

If you do use another computer, be sure to delete your “Temporary Internet Files” or “Cache” and clear all of your “History” after you log off your account. You should occasionally check to make sure that no one else has attached any device or added programs to your computer without your knowledge or consent.

3. Keep your computer security up to date.

Personal firewalls and security software packages (with anti-virus, anti-spam and spyware detection features) are critical if you use online financial tools. Ensure your security software is always up to date. It’s also a good idea to use encryption software – especially if you have a laptop.

4. Log off.

Anytime you are on a website that you have to log in and out of, such as a banking site or websites like Amazon and eBay, be sure to log off every time. Access may not be terminated if you simply close or minimize your browser or type in a new Web address when you’re done using your online account. If you are still logged in, your information can be accessed if someone were to use the browser you were using on your device.

5. Be smart about using apps.

Make sure you know where you are getting your applications and software from. It should be a reputable source and have legitimate user recommendations. Take the time to do your homework in reviewing the sources before downloading anything.

Also, if you use apps on mobile devices to access your financial accounts, be sure to password-protect your device – and make sure you select the highest security setting that the app offers.

6. Don’t text or email personal information.

Texting or emailing your personal information is especially dangerous because you do not know the security proficiency of the person you are texting or emailing. Your information should be highly guarded. Before sharing your information, ask why the person or company needs your information, how they will protect it and if it’s possible to proceed without your personal information.

Legitimate companies will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive information through email. If your financial institution actually needs personal information from you or your statement, call them and provide the info over the phone. Most important, do not respond to emails, such as “phishing” emails, seeking your password, PIN or other personal information.

7. Keep your information in a safe place.

Make sure you keep all your financial documents in a secure place. Printing out a “Passwords” document and laying it on your desk is probably not a good idea. Also, be careful how you dispose of any documents with financial or other confidential information. Shred documents that have confidential financial or identification information before throwing them away.

8. Safeguard your Social Security number.

It is not a good idea to use your Social Security number as a username, password or PIN. If your Social Security number appears on your driver’s license, be sure to ask your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles whether it can use an alternative number.

It’s important to keep your Social Security card in a safe place and avoid carrying it with you. This also holds true for your children’s cards.

9. Do a periodic “identity theft” check.

It’s a good idea to review your credit report on a regular basis as this may alert you to inaccuracies and unauthorized activity. You can obtain a free credit report every 12 months from three different credit bureaus by contacting the Annual Credit Report Request Service at AnnualCreditReport.com. This is the only authorized online source for you to get a free credit report under federal law. Be aware that you will have to disclose your Social Security number to obtain this report.

If you’ve found that your identity has been stolen it’s important to take action immediately. Check out this blog post for steps to take as soon as possible. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to reach out to a MidWestOne banker immediately.

About the author

Kari Nelson is a branch manager at MidWestOne Bank.

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