More and more banking and financial transactions are conducted online, which means that cyber attacks pose a significant threat to the wealth of many Americans. How can you mitigate this risk? Consider these eight tips.
- Use strong, unique passwords. This may seem obvious, but according to a recent survey, the most common password is “123456.” “Password” is in the top 10. Creating strong passwords for your online accounts — particularly banking, brokerage and email accounts — should be your first line of defense against hacking and other cybersecurity risks. It’s also important to use different passwords for each account or website and to change passwords periodically. Consider using a password manager — such as 1Password or Dashlane — to make the process easier.
- Employ dual-factor authentication. Many banking and other sites that contain sensitive information offer dual-factor (or “two-factor”) authentication. This process requires you to enter a one-time verification code, typically sent via text message, in addition to your username and password. It’s one of the most powerful protections available, because a hacker would not only need to obtain your login credentials but also access to your mobile phone.
- Beware of phishing. Phishing involves emails designed to appear as though they’re from a legitimate financial institution, but are, in fact, sent by criminals. Phishing emails attempt to steal your account numbers, login credentials, Social Security number or other sensitive information, or to take over your computer. Never click on links or open attachments in emails unless you’re confident the messages are authentic. And keep in mind that banks, legitimate businesses and the IRS never ask for financial or personal information via email.
- Be careful with wire transfers. It’s common for sophisticated hackers to intercept legitimate wire transfer instructions and replace them with fraudulent directions to wire funds to an account they control. Always call the financial institution involved in a transfer — at a number you trust, not one listed in the email — and verify instructions over the phone.
- Use a dedicated device for financial accounts. You might want to use a separate computer, tablet or other device solely for logging into financial accounts and conducting financial transactions. By refraining from using this device for other purposes — such as email, social media, Web surfing and shopping — you’ll minimize the risk that it will be compromised by malware or other hacking tools.
- Avoid unsecured Wi-Fi networks. If you log into accounts or send or receive email on unsecured networks — for example, at a coffee shop or airport — there’s a risk that your login credentials or other information will be intercepted by hackers. If you have no other choice, use virtual private network (VPN) software to establish an encrypted network connection. Make sure your home Wi-Fi network is protected by firewalls and up-to-date security software, and install antivirus and anti malware software on your computers.
- Freeze or lock your credit. Placing a freeze or lock on your credit helps prevent hackers from opening new credit card accounts, applying for a loan or conducting other fraudulent transactions in your name. The three major credit reporting bureaus make it relatively easy to freeze or lock your credit information on their websites or via a mobile app. The bureaus also enable you to temporarily unfreeze or unlock credit for legitimate transactions.
- Set up alerts for your financial activities. Set up text or email alerts with your credit and debit cards, bank accounts, and other financial accounts. These alerts notify you of transactions above a specified threshold or if your balance falls below a certain level, enabling you to identify and address potentially fraudulent activity quickly.
In today’s digital world, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to avoid conducting financial transactions online. However, by taking precautions, you can minimize cyber risks.