Digital banking is generally a secure operation, but — like anything you do on the internet — you can become a target for identity thieves if your browsing isn’t protected. Want to minimize your chance of becoming a victim of ID fraud? Here are some ways to keep your personal information secure when shopping or banking online:
Create strong, varied passwords
It’s tempting to use the same simple, memorable password for all of your logins — including your financial accounts. But this makes you vulnerable to criminals who can easily hack your accounts. A good password should be at least 15 characters long, omit any identifiable information, and be changed often. How can you remember these complex passwords? Use a reliable password manager program that will store them for you securely.
Maximize authentication protocols
If a thief does obtain your password, you can prevent them from obtaining access to your account by activating a second wall of security. Two-factor authentication (2FA) requires the person logging in to provide a temporary code, show a biometric characteristic, or answer a personal question to prove their identity. Having 2FA is especially valuable for safeguarding your financial accounts.
Use a secure device
Don’t do any online banking or shopping on a public device or public Wi-Fi connection. Instead, only access your financial information over a private network on a device with antivirus software installed. Lock your device with a strong password when it’s not in use, and use a banking app rather than a browser when you’re on your smartphone. “Don't stop there,” advises Neil J. Rubenking of PC Magazine. “Install a virtual private network, or VPN, as well. Your local security software protects your data on your own devices, while the VPN protects it as it travels the internet. Using a VPN also serves to hide your personal IP address.”
Wipe electronics and paperwork
Do you still receive printed credit card, account, or investment statements in the mail? Shred these sensitive documents instead of throwing them in the trash or recycle bin. Also shred old credit and debit cards after they expire, and don’t save unprotected, sensitive documents on your personal device. “Shred junk mail, too,” recommends Bev O’Shea of NerdWallet, “especially preapproved offers of credit.”
Be alert of suspicious communication
Don’t fall for self-proclaimed representatives of your financial institution who contact you through unusual channels, reach out from unrecognized contact points, or ask for personal information. Do not open any attachments that they send you, either. “Scammers can make phone calls appear to come from government entities or businesses, and emails that appear to be legitimate may be attempts to steal your information,” warns O’Shea. How can you verify if the point of contact is legitimate? “Initiate a callback or return email yourself, working from a known entity such as the official website, rather than responding to a call or email.”
Review your statements regularly
A thief may already have your information, but you can protect yourself before they do any major damage. How? By reviewing your credit card and account statements every month to catch any transactions that you don’t recognize. “Someone with your credit card number or bank account information could make small charges to see if they can get away with it.,” U.S. News contributor Jeff Kinney says. “These transactions can easily slip through the cracks without you or your financial institution noticing them.” If successful, the thief may escalate to making bigger charges. The same goes for reviewing annual credit reports. You can obtain copies of your Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian reports for free once a year without damaging your credit score.
Being smart and vigilant about your online activity can go a long way in keeping your identity safe online from prying eyes who want to exploit your information.