First it was Target, then it was Neiman Marcus. Since then, new data breaches have popped up in the headlines, creating what might feel like a domino effect. Now that these vulnerabilities have come to light, what’s next?
Maybe not much, according to a columnist at the New York Times. Companies are pleading they can’t even keep up with the technologies being developed by hackers and individuals with mal intent. The admission comes on the heels of breaches that occurred months ago without any public knowledge. It’s a troubling thought for the future of financial security.
Consumers shouldn’t assume that the number of these security breaches will decrease in the coming months. There is always the potential for more breaches to be reported and investigated. That’s why it’s essential to take action now in order to protect your finances and maintain an upper hand.
Though businesses are vowing to become more trustworthy and taking action to install more protections for their customers, don’t rely on these fixes alone. A company may be responsible for taking measures to keep your information safe, but you’re responsible for the way you share that information to begin with.
With that in mind, we’ve compiled some easy to implement precautions to protect yourself and your finances. Even small actions can have a big impact! The difference between identity theft, financial fraud, or personal security threats and safety could lie in any of these tips:
Choose “Credit” When Using Your Debit Card
This is a step important enough to garner an entire blog post but in a few words: you’ll benefit from greater protections and and avoid having your PIN stolen by opting for the “credit” option when swiping your debit card. More information on the whys and hows here.
The tried and true method for avoiding stolen information or identity: use cash. This obviously isn’t sustainable for all purchases all the time. But you can cut back the number of places you use your card (and potentially share personal information) by paying for some purchases in cash. Consider taking out a lump sum from your bank at the beginning of the week and use it to pay for your smaller expenses such as coffee, groceries, Target purchases, etc. (This can also help with the envelope budgeting system)
Set Up Alerts
Most banks offer the option to receive alerts when there is any unusual activity in your account. These can be alerts on your phone, alerts to your e-mail, etc. This “instant” connection is a great opportunity to maintain a sense of your finances and gives you the opportunity to take action when any negative charges or activity occurs. Just be sure to delete any alerts that contain even a smidge of sensitive information about your account.
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Incorporate Financial Check-Ins To Your Schedule
Make it a natural part of your day to check in with your accounts, even just scanning the deductions to keep tabs on any and all activity in your account. This doesn’t have to take long – just a double check as you sip your morning coffee. It’s a great way to keep attuned to your finances and a great way to set off the alarms early should you find anything unusual. Consider this the “double checking that the oven is off and doors are locked before leaving the house” part of your daily financial routine.
Secure Your Electronics
Anytime you use your computer or phone for online banking you will be entering sensitive information that allows access to your accounts. That’s why it’s important to take extra care that you’re using trusted and secure networks when logging in. And even though most sites will time out your sessions after a certain period, it’s still extremely important to log out manually at the end of your sessions – especially if you’re using a public access computer. For extra tips and information, read up on how to protect yourself and your loved ones from online identity theft.
Trust Your Gut
The retail breaches represent a much larger thieving strategy but many financial fraud cases arise from smaller measures. For instance, scanners on ATM or automatic payment machines that copy your card number and potentially, your pin. This information gives financial fraudsters an open door into your bank account and hard-earned money. Before using any ATM or payment machine, take note of any suspicious looking construction or persons in the area. When in doubt? Don’t use it. If possible, default to using ATM’s inside your bank branch or going directly to a teller.
Report ANY Suspicious Activity IMMEDIATELY
If you see anything weird? Report it. Anything unusual? Report it. Anything even remotely unexpected? Report it. In almost all instances, it’s better to be safe than sorry and reporting any suspicions is one way that you can ensure that you’re being proactive in protecting your finances.
Don’t Be Afraid To Ask Questions
Along with reporting suspicious activity, don’t be afraid to ask questions about what protections are available should you encounter any security breach. Think of it like a fire drill for your finances. You don’t want to have to use this knowledge in real life but it’s incredibly valuable to practice.
Last-ditch pitch: Imagine the Scenario
When we’re inundated with information it can result in decision overload. Instead of taking action, you feel paralyzed or too torn to make a decision. But don’t assume that you’ll be one of the lucky ones that evades the repercussions of these security breaches. Imagine what would happen if your information was stolen and used to create a fake identity. Being blamed for purchases or actions that you have absolutely nothing to do with. Or imagine waking up to find your bank account completely drained. Though these are worst case scenarios, they’re still possibilities. Take measures to protect yourself now so that you don’t have to see these imaginings in action.
Image Credit: Will Montague