One small mistake—that's all it takes to compromise your financial security.
This realization dawned on me following the recent Target debit and credit card hack, where nearly 40 million account details were stolen as part of a Thanksgiving weekend security breach. Fox News reports that this is the second-largest credit card breach in American history.
I got to thinking: If their hi-tech systems could be compromised, putting millions of people at risk for credit card fraud, then I imagine it'd be a walk in the park for some cyber wizard to snag my credit card details from an unsecured online transaction, clean sweep my bank accounts and leave me empty handed. That's not a pretty picture, so I decided it was time to take action and adapt new practices for protecting my personal data.
While I'm not willing to do anything too extreme, like stop using credit cards altogether or stash my critical documents in a safe box buried out back, I've found a few low-hassle ways to instantly boost my security and protect my assets (or at least what's left of them after the shopping extravaganza I went on last week):
1. Safeguard and monitor your information. No matter how well secured your personal documents are, it always pays to have a back-up file handy, just in case. To regain my peace of mind after the Target incident, I downloaded the free app, Lifelock Wallet, which allows me to store digital copies of my bank account details, tax forms and more on my iOS or Android smartphone, so I can access them on-the-go and have a duplicate to reference in case of emergencies. Not only does it allow me password-protected access to my personal data at all times, it enables me to remotely monitor fraudulent bank account activity and even cancel a credit card in the case of loss or theft.
2. Manage pre-approved offers. On average, I receive 2-3 pre-approved credit card offers per week by mail. While I used to just shred up the documents (always a good first step) and safely dispose of them, a smarter move is to contact each source and ask to be removed from the mailing list. That way, it's less likely that an impostor will be able to intercept my mail and open up a line of credit in my name. An easy way to do this is to visit OptOutPre-Screen.com, the official Consumer Credit Reporting Industry website that helps you manage pre-screened offers. I could choose between opting out of offers for just a limited time or permanently—and can choose to reinstate the offers at any time.
3. Update passwords regularly. Keeping track of all my different passwords can be tricky, so I'm always tempted to make them all the same or to rely on a few simple favorites to rotate on occasion. But creating complex passwords, each containing special characters, digits or a mix of upper and lower case letters, that are updated often is one of your best bets for keeping your digital information secure.
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Image: Credit card theif illustration via Shutterstock.