We hear about data breaches and scams all the time, but, as you can imagine, the holiday season is the prime time for hackers to strike. The most recent Carbon Black Holiday Threat Report showed a 57.5 percent increase in attempted cyberattacks during the holiday season in 2017. (1) In the past two years, eCommerce sites and the attractiveness of online shopping has only grown, putting consumers at an even higher risk of being hacked. An Experian survey of more than 1,000 adults found that 8% of those polled said they have experienced identity threat during the holidays. (2)
Thankfully, there are some practical steps you can take to ensure that your personal information and hard-earned money are as secure as possible so you can avoid a stressful situation during what should be a celebratory season.
1. Watch Your Wi-Fi
We’re so used to using our phones everywhere we go that we often don’t think about the security of whatever Wi-Fi network we connect to. But it might be worth it to give it extra thought, especially when you are shopping online while using public Wi-Fi. Avoid submitting your credit card information unless you are connected to a private, secure wireless network. In other words, save your shopping for home or another trusted network, not for your local coffee shop.
If you do need to enter personal information on the go, turn your Wi-Fi off and use your phone data, connecting you to your more-secure cellular network, or consider investing in a virtual private network (VPN) so you can use public Wi-Fi with more peace of mind.
2. Screen Your Emails
Phishing scams show up in your inbox regularly, even if you’ve applied stringent security settings to your email account. If an email sneaks in that looks like it is from a financial institution, do not click on any of the links or open any attachments. Most financial institutions will send you a secure message through your account rather than a direct email. Delete the email or report it to your provider.
Before you click on a link in any email, check two things: the sender’s email address and the link destination. Phishers often try to look legitimate by showing up in your inbox with a legitimate name, but if you hover your mouse over the sender’s name, you will see the full email address and be able to determine if it is from a trusted source or not. Use the same tactic with the clickable links inside the email message. Hover your mouse over the hyperlink and see where the link will take you. If it looks suspicious, delete the email. To be safe, when shopping online, type the retailer’s URL into your browser instead of clicking email links.
3. Strengthen Your Passwords
Your first line of defense online is passwords. Your passwords are the gates between criminals and things like your financial accounts, so you want them to be as strong as possible. For passwords, strength comes from complexity. Aim to use a mix of upper- and lowercase letters, special characters, and numbers. To make them easier to remember, choose a phrase or acronym that you created yourself.
In addition to strong passwords, you want to make sure you have separate passwords. Don’t use the same one, or a simple variation of the same one, for multiple accounts or websites. Also, avoid using your name, government ID numbers, address, or other personal information that can be easily found, such as the names of your children or pets.
Even if you have a strong password, it is good practice to change it 3 to 4 times a year. Don’t store your passwords somewhere they can easily be found (like a sticky note on your computer!), and, by all means, don’t disclose them to anyone! When offered, add a second barrier to entry in addition to your password with two-factor authentication.
4. Set Up Alerts
Many financial institutions offer customizable notifications. You can choose to receive alerts for transactions placed outside of your geographical area, purchases above certain amounts, or instances when your credit card is used without the card being present. If you receive a notification for a charge you did not make, alert your credit card company or bank immediately and freeze the account.
Notifications aside, be sure to regularly review your credit card transactions during the holidays. Make it a habit to check for unknown line items or irregularities. Inspect your credit report and look for errors in your personal information or lines of credit. If you see anything amiss in these reports, your identity may have been stolen. You can get three free credit reports a year from annualcreditreport.com and a free TransUnion and Equifax report once a week from creditkarma.com.
How We Can Help
The holiday season is a time for joy and generosity, not for being on the phone with your bank’s customer service and stressing about identity theft. While it can feel unnerving to think about cyber attacks and hacking, implementing some of these tips may help you feel more confident and can help you reduce your risk.
Finally, financial advisors actively review your financial information and can be considered another line of defense when it comes to noticing unusual activity in your accounts. Call our office today at 832-585-0110, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact us online to request a complimentary consultation and we can discuss additional ways to protect your financial assets.
About HFG Wealth Management
HFG Wealth Management, LLC is an independent financial planning and wealth advisory firm serving individuals, families, and business owners in The Woodlands and nationwide. HFG is committed to building meaningful relationships with clients that seek to span time and generations, helping clients live the lives they desire while also helping achieve their financial goals. Founder and CEO Larry A. Harvey, ChFC, with 35 years of experience and leading a team of experienced financial planning and support professionals, takes a highly personalized approach to financial guidance. HFG Wealth Management has integrated the complexity of financial life planning and investment management services into a customized wealth management offering. HFG is committed to keeping clients balanced, yet seeks to be flexible in response to constantly changing market conditions, all while providing ongoing support to help clients maintain a disciplined approach to realizing their financial objectives. To learn more about HFG Wealth Management, connect with them on LinkedIn.