One of the biggest themes of the past year has been the scary truth that our personal information may not be as secure as we think it is. Yet, despite the recent spate of data breaches, many consumers aren't doing enough to protect themselves.
Certainly, companies and banks bear a great deal of responsibility for safeguarding their customers' information, but there's plenty that individual consumers can do, too.
Stay vigilant, every day
By monitoring your accounts regularly, you can respond quickly if hackers attempt to use your information. Here are some best practices:
- Keep a close eye on your credit card statements. Be on the lookout for suspicious charges, and note any other account changes you didn't make.
- Pay attention to "last logged in" info. During each online banking session, check the website's "last logged in" section to make sure you're the only one accessing your account.
- Sign up for electronic alerts. More credit card companies are beginning to offer this service, sending customers a text or e-mail when a suspicious transaction is made on their account.
- Consider a credit monitoring service. Credit monitoring typically costs just $10–$15 per month, but the extra security it offers may be well worth the additional expense. For those affected by Target's data breach, the company is offering a full year of free credit monitoring.
Adopt safe shopping habits
Whether you're shopping online or in a store, these are good practices to follow:
- Use cash more. It's simple mathematics. The fewer times you use a credit or debit card, the fewer chances a hacker has to capture your personal information.
- Change your passwords regularly. Be sure to periodically update your passwords on retail sites and other websites that store your personal information. And don't use the same password for every site! A tool like LastPass may be a good alternative to remembering dozens of complex passwords.
- Think twice before giving out personal information. Though it may be required when shopping online, you don't have to supply personal information when asked by a store clerk. Declining to provide your phone number and other details will limit the amount of information about you in the company's database.
Remember the basics
You've probably heard these tips before, but they remain essential to keeping your personal information safe.
- Be e-mail savvy. When it comes to e-mail, here are some pointers to keep in mind:
- Be wary of links in e-mails that appear to be from your bank. Instead, go directly to the bank's website and follow the instructions there.
- Never provide personal details over e-mail, including user IDs and passwords, credit or debit card information, and so on.
- Never open, run, or install programs or files you receive from an unknown source or even unsolicited requests from people you know. Delete suspicious e-mails from your inbox, and then delete them from your deleted items folder.
- Always log out before leaving an online banking session or a website that stores your personal information.
- Enable two-factor authentication on your e-mail and social media accounts.
- Update your antivirus software. Be sure that the antivirus protection on your computer and other devices is current. Remember, you tend to get what you pay for with free antivirus software.
- Shred it! Last but not least, shred old documents that include personal information such as account numbers.
Spread the word!
Although none of these measures guarantees success, following the guidelines here can only help you safeguard your accounts and your identity. As always, we encourage you to share this article with your family and friends. As data breaches become increasingly common, awareness is a crucial factor in thwarting hackers and protecting your personal information.