If your stress level in 2022 hasn’t come down from where you’d hoped it might be when COVID first made an appearance, you’re not alone. These days, health concerns are still lingering, and inflation coupled with global unrest has many of us on edge… Unfortunately, you can now add something else to your list of worries: cybersecurity.
In late February, Western nations handed Russia stringent sanctions as a response to the war in Ukraine. U.S. banking experts were quick to offer warnings of possible “retaliatory cyber attacks” that might be coming. “As Western institutions are often the target of cyber attacks, we can only expect these attacks to increase during a time of war and instability,” says Avi Turgemon, cybersecurity CEO and privacy expert. “Unfortunately, both government and private institutions can be on the receiving end of these attacks, so it is likely consumers will be impacted in some way.”
Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself and your money, so try not to worry. Here’s a look at our best tips to help you strengthen your accounts — and feel safe.
Freeze your credit
You’ve heard this guidance here before. (We’re big fans of frozen credit here at HerMoney), but it bears repeating. A credit freeze can be done for free online with the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) or by phone or mail, explains Ted Rossman, senior industry analyst with Bankrate.com.
“The beauty of a credit freeze is that it prevents criminals from opening new loans or lines of credit in your name. I view this as a much more harmful form of identity theft than payment fraud,” Rossman says.
Someone stealing your identity to open a credit card or take out a loan is a much more complicated problem than a fraudulent charge on your credit card (which most credit cards will take care of without you losing real money). In addition to the potential damage to your credit, it’s a problem that can be costly and time-consuming to resolve. The only downside to a freeze is that you have to remember to lift it before you want to apply for credit again. (But as long as you keep your PIN number handy and secure, it won’t be a problem.)
Use strong and unique passwords
We get it. Remembering 10,000 secure passwords for every single account that you need in order to function as a human in society is, well, impossible. But thankfully we now live in an era where remembering all of them just isn’t necessary. Password managers, such as LastPass or 1Password or DashLane can be the lifesaver you’ve been looking for. Plus, many Web browsers, like Google Chrome, have built-in secure password managers that can keep all your accounts secure. If you haven’t evaluated your account security in a while, now is the time — 80% of us use the same password in multiple places, according to a Bankrate poll, which means that if your password gets stolen from one place, you could be compromised on multiple accounts.
“There have been so many data breaches that I’d just assume all of our data is out there at this point,” Rossman says. “For instance, you may not care all that much about your hotel loyalty program password, but if that’s also your bank account password, that theft just got a lot more meaningful.”
If it’s available to you on a given account, two-factor authentication can be a great means of security, too. (This is when you have a secure code sent to your email or phone number before you’re allowed to login to your account. In some cases you may also be using biometrics, like a fingerprint, in order to gain access to your account.)
Keep a close eye on things
It’s important to monitor your credit reports and bank and credit card statements regularly. This won’t prevent fraud, but if something does go wrong, it’s always better to know sooner rather than later.
Other Data Security Mistakes To Avoid
Other things not to do when trying to protect your finances are:
- use public WiFi
- throw out sensitive mail without shredding
- post your birthdate on social media
What’s the worst that can happen?
While getting an unauthorized charge on your card is annoying, most likely your card company will take care of it, and it won’t do too much long-term harm. Being a victim of identity theft and fraud, though, are more difficult and time consuming to fix.
“For consumers, fraud, often the result of identity theft, is an enormous, painful and overwhelming issue to deal with,” Turgemon says. “It could take months and sometimes years until they reclaim their identity. In some cases, information can be forever compromised.”
Rossman agrees, saying the “bigger problem is when someone steals your identity to open a new financial account.” This can have much larger consequences, such as damaging your credit score. Stolen identities can be used to obtain medical services, create fraudulent driver’s licenses and even steal your tax refund. (If this happens in any circumstance, alert the relevant financial institutions, credit bureaus and possibly even the Federal Trade Commission.)
But, following the simple tips above can go a long way in making sure this never happens.
- The Crisis in Ukraine: How You Can Help
- The Top Financial Scams and How to Avoid Them
- You Just Gave A Scammer Your Personal Info. Here’s What To Do Next.
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