7 Ways to Protect Your Personal Financial Information
It seems like every day we hear of new risks to our personal financial information so It’s more important than ever to know the basic ways we can keep our finances secure. Whether you’re a gal who routinely files away her hard-copy bank statements or manages everything online, there are ways to minimize the risk that your information will fall in the wrong hands. Here are some best practices to consider to keep your money safe.
1. Clean out your wallet.
Many of us carry much more identifying information in our wallets on a day-to-day basis than we actually need. Go through your wallet with a critical eye, taking out things like credit cards you aren’t using regularly. As a reminder, you should never keep key documents like your social security card in your wallet. Store those in a safe deposit box or somewhere securely at home.
2. Invest in a shredder.
When possible, it’s best to limit paper mail for a variety of reasons, not least of which is minimizing the time and ways your financial information can be acquired. For financial information that still comes in the mail, it’s worth the minimal investment to buy a small home shredder and securely destroy paper mail like credit card statements promptly after reviewing. Be sure to shred promotional credit applications as well! They are another way thieves can try to use your identity and attempt to access personal info.
3. Get smart on phishing.
“Phishing” is a way that Internet scammers try to get you to share personal information through emails, texts, or other communications. The scary part can be that these notifications might come from companies you have legitimate accounts with! Fraudsters often try to impersonate those companies and send you emails, texts, or call you to “phish” for identifying information that will help them get access to your financial accounts and identity.
Tip: Read up at the FTC for examples of phishing messages. When doubting that a message from your bank or credit card company is really legitimate, initiate your own phone call to the company using the number on the back of your card or credit card statement.
4. Freeze your credit.
If you’ve recently had a wallet lost or stolen, or even if you’re just in a period where you know you don't need many new accounts, consider putting a freeze on your credit report. The freeze works by restricting access to your credit report—so no one can open a new account without a personalized pin. This makes it more difficult for accounts to be fraudulently opened in your name.
Place a freeze by getting in touch with the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and for additional details. Credit bureaus usually charge a minimal fee of $5 to $10 for the service and can give you further guidance on when a freeze is best used.
5. Think passphrase, not password.
Increase the strength of your passwords to keep your financial accounts even more secure. We’re all already pretty careful about not using the same password across multiple sites, and we know that passwords are at their best when they use a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols to make them strong. That said, today’s hackers are unfortunately pretty impressive, so if your password is a variation of something that exists in a dictionary, it can probably be cracked.
Instead of passwords for your bank accounts, consider using a passphrase—condense a meaningless “word” by taking the first letter of each word in the sentence. For example, a phrase like “I always like to shoe shop on my payday” becomes this password: I@L2S$0mp. See how that’s a little more complex? In this phrase, “always” became “@” and “to” became “2”. Tiny tricks like this can make a big difference in crafting strong passwords.
6. Maintain and update your computer security.
Make sure you complete your personal banking on your home computer, and also be sure that computer is in the safest shape possible by regularly updating security and antivirus software. Because remembering to do this can be a hassle, consider turning on the automatic updates feature so that you don’t have to think about it.
7. Bank smarter (on your smartphone).
Mobile banking apps have made it easy and accessible to handle our finances on-the-go. It’s important to be cautious, however, and not use these apps on open, public wifi networks. Unless you are on your secure home system, or logging in via your own hotspot, consider turning off wifi when you use mobile banking apps. This way, your banking transaction will run off 4G or wireless carriers whose secure mobile encryption has proven safer than open wifi.