Wednesday, Jan 17, 2018

How to Protect Your Online Identity and Bank Account

The recent incident on October 10, 2012 that lead to more than 3.6  million social security numbers to be downloaded from the SC Department of Revenue by unknown hackers should be a cold shower for all of us. The fact that things like this can happen at this level is somewhat scary and leaves us wondering if there is any decent level of individual protection and security for the people doing online banking or making online purchases. And I don’t mean the marketing-inflated-and-overly-confident type of assurance we get from the antivirus companies trying to make us buy their solution. I mean something we can do to REALLY protect our online identity and bank account. Before we find such miraculous solution, if we’re ever luck to get such thing, I would like to suggest a few steps any of us can and should take to minimize the risk of identity theft and protect our bank account:

  • Use tough-to-guess usernames and passwords – make hacker’s life miserable by choosing usernames and passwords that are hard to guess, disconnected from the important things in our life like anniversary dates, pet names and things like that;
  • Pay attention to deceptive emails – a very common method for hackers to collect log-in credentials. These emails are disguised to look like they are from your bank and contain a link to login to your online bank account. The way the scam works is by redirecting you to a phony web page that resembles your bank when you click the link. They collect your user name and password once you type it in and then return an error page asking you to try it later. Well, later is already too late. Your log-in credentials for your bank account have already been collected by the bad guys;
  • Keep your log-in credentials for yourself – memorize them if possible and don’t write them down. If you have to write them in a notebook, treat it just like your credit card. Make sure it does not get in anybody else’s hands and especially in front of anybody else’s eyes;
  • Surf the internet safely – never leave the computer you have just used to do online banking unattended and always make sure you log off when you’re done. Keep an eye on the surroundings to avoid praying eyes and make sure you are using a secured internet connection (it starts with https instead of just http);
  • Check your balance often – it helps you catch the troubles before the damage is done. Be alarmed by any transaction that you don’t remember no matter how small the amount. Often times the troubles start with a small transaction meant to test the credentials and the connection to your bank account. If you miss these smaller signs, you will be hit next by the big storm! Keep an eye on your account and let’s hope that banks will keep their common sense and won’t start charging us for these trivia things like checking the balance online;
  • Use your credit card instead of debit card. Credit cards offer stronger fraud and identity theft protections;
  • Create an account on a credit monitoring service – a step that you can do for free if you are among the people affected by the SC Department of Revenue’s system hack (in fact that service is not free, it is just paid for you for a year by the State of South Carolina).
  • Think outside the box. Don’t believe everything that comes in an envelope. And shred any sensitive information before discarding or recycling it. Identity theft isn’t limited to the online world!

These tips should alleviate any concerns you may have about the safety of your account and identity, allowing you to concentrate on more important things. In the meantime though, don’t forget to inform and educate yourself on these topics.