October will soon arrive and usher in a season of cooler weather, changing colors, and fall festivals. Importantly (albeit with much less nostalgia), October is also National Cyber Security Month. So before getting too cozy with the season’s first mug of apple cider, we should turn our attention towards protecting our identity and finances. As Americans increasingly rely on the internet to connect, work, and shop, the threat of malicious hackers and identity thieves continues to rise. While we at Wealthquest make it a top priority to secure our clients’ information, there are additional efforts individuals must consider as part of a holistic approach to personal security.
Whether or not you’ve actually experienced a major data breach, it’s best to operate under the assumption that your personal information is “out there” and then take the necessary steps to protect yourself. A couple of weeks ago we began to explore those steps in our post about the Equifax Data Breach, and today we’ll delve a bit further. Hackers often need only one or two important pieces of personal information to cause a large amount of damage which can then take years to resolve. By developing a few simple common-sense habits, you can help keep your information from landing in criminal hands in the first place.
Private information belongs on private computers and private networks as much as possible. So don’t conduct private business with private information on public computers or networks. That was confusing. Put plainly, using public computers anyone can access, or “free” public Wi-Fi at your local coffee shop, is fine if you just want to browse the Web or catch up on the latest news, but avoid visiting any websites that would require you to enter a username and password. A good rule of thumb: while using public computers and/or Wi-Fi, assume that eyes other than your own can see every website you enter and each keystroke you make.
Regularly updating passwords with difficult-to-guess sequences is one of the safest things you can do for your identity online. To make the process easier, it might be time to graduate your password spreadsheet to a proper password manager. Relying on your web browser or operating system to save passwords to your favorite sites opens you to risk you simply don’t need. Most top-of-the-line password managers employ encryption features and a wide array of organization options to ensure all passwords meet ever-changing standards, while remaining protected and in your control.
And finally, while this is the digital age, the World Wide Web can’t possibly shoulder all the blame for being the gateway to identity fraud. Criminals will go to great lengths to gather your personal data – which includes prying in your mailbox or digging through your trash. Don’t reward snoops and dumpster-divers. Pick mail up promptly after it has been delivered. Don’t let it linger in your mailbox. And, if you know you’ll be out of town, contact the USPS and have them put a hold on delivering your mail until you return. Then, after you’ve sifted through the mail, for heaven’s sake don’t toss those old bank statements and credit card reports in the trash. Invest in a paper shredder or, better yet, use them to start your first October bonfire while you enjoy a mug of warm apple cider and a little peace of mind.
David Kern is a Wealth Management Advisor at Wealthquest – a Cincinnati based financial planning and wealth management firm that offers a full range of financial services under one roof, for one simple fee.