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Cybersecurity Tips for Managing Finances Online

In our recent credit score post, we discussed how checking your credit report regularly can help you to guard against identity theft.  But what if someone aims to compromise your financial data, rather than steal your identity?  Below we discuss some of the risks that we all face in conducting our financial affairs online and steps that we can take to mitigate them.

Don’t Wonder If Your Data Will Be Compromised, But When.  In a recent presentation on cybersecurity, a large online investment broker indicated that it faces 5 to 7 attempts per month to compromise client accounts by fraud.  And 30% of the attempts are successful!  Obviously, the consequences to falling victim to such an attempt could be severe.  Even if your losses are covered by the relevant financial institution, you may have to invest significant time, money and effort to ensure that your accounts are made whole again and your electronic devices are no longer at risk.

How Can You Protect Against Fraud?  Maintaining cybersecurity, especially when managing your finances online, mainly involves being careful what information you reveal and over what network you reveal it.

  • Use Caution with Email.  Avoid sending sensitive personal or financial information over email.  If you need to tell your Social Security number to your spouse who is working on your taxes, pick up the phone; don’t email.  If you need to send a form to your financial advisor with account numbers on it, send it by fax or upload it to a secure website, if possible. If, for some reason, you must send sensitive information via email, send it in a password-protected document and convey the password to the recipient by a different medium.
  • Put Limits on Social Media.  Hackers live on social media, combing for personal information on which they can capitalize.  Be careful what information you share and keep your privacy settings as limited as possible.
  • Evaluate Data Access Requests from Apps.  Be aware of the permission settings on apps for your phone or tablet and what types of information the app is accessing.  Reject requests for permission to collect data that isn’t relevant to the purpose of the app (e.g. unnecessary requests to access contacts, internet content, location, etc.).
  • Be Wary of Free Flash Drives.  In some cases, “free” flash drives have been loaded with malicious agents that can compromise your computer once connected. Only use flash drives that you have bought or obtained from a reputable source, that are sealed prior to purchase, and that you continue to secure consistently after purchase.
  • Use Free Wifi at Your Own Risk.  Hackers often attempt to capitalize on free wireless network environments, whether in coffee shops, hotels, or otherwise, to gain access to your data.  Avoid sending or accessing sensitive data when using free wifi, and be careful that you are connected to the correct network.  Sometimes hackers will create a fake wifi network with a name that looks like the legitimate network.  If you are using a smart phone or a tablet to access the internet, you may want to just play it safe and pay data charges instead of using the free wifi.  Data networks are generally more secure, and paying data charges would still be much cheaper than recovering from identity theft.

For our clients, we at PFS are constantly on guard against attempts to compromise your accounts.  Make sure that you do all that you can as well to protect yourself from any bad actors seeking to compromise your data online.


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