The Equifax breach that was announced in September left millions of Americans feeling exposed. According to a press release from the major credit bureau, about 143 million consumers were affected by the breach, but the conclusion of a forensic investigation found this estimate was short about 2.5 million consumers.
This data hack was far-reaching and involved heaps of personal information, including Social Security numbers, addresses, credit card numbers and more. And while it may seem like this is the first of its kind – and in some ways, it is – the fact is that data hacks aren’t anything new, and they likely aren’t going away anytime soon.
Even if you’re one of the lucky and relatively few who wasn’t affected by the Equifax breach, it would still benefit you to take some time this month to evaluate your identity protection measures. In recognition of October being National Cyber Security Awareness Month, here are some tips to keep your financial and personal information out of the hands of criminals:
Proper paper management
One of the simplest ways a criminal can gain access to personal or financial information has nothing to do with computers or the internet at all. Mail theft is the quick-and-easy way criminals can get their hands on your bank account information. To prevent this:
- Check your mail daily.
- Report or inquire about any missing mail you expected to receive.
- Use a locked mailbox or a secure P.O. Box.
- Arrange to have your mail held at the post office when you go out of town.
After you check your mail and gain all the information you need from it, don’t simply toss your bank statements in the trash. If you hold onto important forms, keep them in a secure location like a locked filing cabinet. If you get rid of them, be sure they’re thoroughly shredded.
Keep your Social Security number secret
A criminal with someone else’s Social Security number can do a lot of damage. Never give anyone your full SSN unless you’re positive the person on the receiving end is trustworthy and the method of delivery is secure; avoid entering it into online forms and when your banker asks for it, consider writing it down and handing it over rather than loudly reciting it in the middle of the lobby.
Your Social Security card is one document you’ll need for a variety of things, like updating your driver’s license or accepting a new job. But that doesn’t mean it should always be on-hand. Keep it safely tucked away somewhere at home – not your wallet.
Monitor your accounts
If someone has your financial information, it’s probably only a matter of time before the criminal starts ringing up charges. The best thing you can do is catch it early on. You’re allowed three free credit reports every year from annualcreditreport.com – use this resource. Request your report, review it closely and address any open accounts that don’t seem right.
Online and mobile banking makes monitoring your checking account easy to do a regular basis throughout the month. You can also sign up for alerts through Bank Midwest’s online banking system. Choose the types of transactions you want to be alerted on, such as any purchase over a specific dollar amount.
Finally, carefully review your credit card and other account statements every month. Set aside time in your week to do this so you don’t push it off. Contact the card issuer or financial institution if any purchases listed aren’t right.
Be wise online
Choose your passwords carefully. They should be easy for you to remember but hard for someone else to guess. Create different passwords for each online account – this way, even if a criminal guesses a password to one account, he or she can’t copy-paste it into your other accounts for easy access.
Never check your financial accounts or type in sensitive information (i.e. credit card number, Social Security number, mother’s maiden name, etc.) when you’re connected to public Wi-Fi. Use a network you trust completely – preferably the one in your own home. If you absolutely need to check your balance from the store or coffee shop, disconnect from the public network and use cellular data instead.
Not all websites are secure, even when connected to your own private network. Before buying something or entering sensitive information into a website, double-check the URL. Make sure it’s the correct spelling – if the URL looks strange, it could be a look-alike set up by hackers. Additionally, check that “https://” comes before the URL. The key is the “s” – it stands for “secure.”