Are you doing all you can to protect your finances during these unprecedented times? Start with our checklist to safeguard your accounts and information.
Following the Russian invasion of Ukraine last month, government agencies, banks and others in the financial services industry have been on high alert to the possibility of Russian cyberattacks. Some experts have said that the United States’ sanctions on Russia could provoke an attack here, and that it could impact banking systems, critical infrastructure (like the power grid), and more.
While we’re not a cybersecurity firm and can’t speak to the ins and outs of potential threats, we do believe that during turbulent times like these, it’s critical to do all you can to protect your financial health—especially because so much of our financial lives exists online these days.
With that in mind, here are 10 action items you can do right now.
#1 Organize your digital assets and accounts
A good first step toward financial hygiene is to make a comprehensive list of all your accounts, financial and otherwise. Make a folder (in digital form or on paper) and arrange all of your accounts by type, along with up-to-date credentials for each account. It’s also a good idea to include security questions and answers in your folder.
If you do create a digital folder, be sure to password protect it. Then store that password in a safe place and share it with someone you trust.
Your digital assets and accounts might include:
- Financial accounts, such as checking accounts, savings, investment accounts, 401(k), credit cards, and so on.
- Online marketplace accounts, such as Amazon, Etsy, eBay, and Facebook Marketplace.
- Other accounts, like email, utilities, cable or streaming services, mobile phone, and apps.
- Digital copies of passports, driver licenses, and Social Security cards, as well as any additional documents containing this sensitive information.
Getting organized can also be a good time to close unnecessary accounts, such as those you no longer use or need to access.
#2 Secure your accounts
Everything from your bank accounts to your social media accounts and online marketplace accounts should be safeguarded with strong passwords, and those passwords should be updated regularly. Also, never use the same password for multiple accounts.
What’s a strong password, by the way? One that is not intuitive and is difficult to remember: It should contain uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols, numbers, and is as long as possible.
Since it can be hard to keep track of all those passwords, use a password manager (such as Dashlane, Keeper, 1Password, or Zoho Vault) to store your passwords and generate strong, unique passwords. A password manager will alert you to vulnerable passwords, and will send you reminders when it’s time to update your password, and you can even share your password manager account or select passwords with family members.
Another security tip: Turn on two-factor authentication wherever possible, a feature that requires you to enter a login code sent via text or generated in an app. The extra step to log in may seem inconvenient, but it prevents unauthorized access and goes a long way in protecting your accounts.
#3 Secure your home wifi
If the name of your home wifi network is your name, address, or anything else that can easily identify you or your home, change it to something more obscure. Be sure you use the same stringent password protocols for your wifi as you do for everything else.
Always keep your router software updated and turn on network encryption on your router. Network encryption means that a security key or password is required to access your network. This protects you from anyone eavesdropping (including those nice neighbors) on your internet activity, using your network for free or to carry out malicious activity, or from intercepting your passwords, login credentials and other personal information.
Confirm that your router supports WPA2 encryption, which is the strongest available today, and apply WPA2 settings on all wireless devices. If you have an old router that is not WPA2-compatible, it’s probably time to upgrade it. Contact your home internet provider for help with your router, if needed.
#4 Never, never, never access any of your financial accounts while connected to public wifi
Did you notice we said NEVER? Public wifi is often easily accessible at places like Starbucks, airports, hotels, and so on. While this availability can be convenient, these connections are not secure at all. This means it can be easy for cyber thieves to steal or access your information, and they know it. (This is another reason to turn on two-factor authentication—if anyone tries to access your accounts, you’ll be notified.)
For this reason, you should never access your bank accounts, credit card accounts, brokerage accounts, or any other accounts that contain sensitive information while using public wifi on any device. That includes your phone, laptop and tablet. It doesn’t matter whether you’re using an app or a browser, by the way—nothing is secure on a public network.
If you must check your account balance while away from home, turn off wifi and access it via your cellular service, which is more secure.
#5 Keep your devices updated
No more ignoring those notifications to update your phone or computer to the latest operating system. Doing so can leave you vulnerable to attacks, because hackers can much more easily exploit older versions.
Instead, make it a high priority to update your devices regularly, and be sure to keep app and software updates current, as well. Likewise, keep your antivirus software current.
#6 Be suspicious of emails trying to get you to click on links or give up personal information
Don’t click on links in emails, DMs or text messages, even if they look reputable. Most cyberattacks are caused by hackers tricking users into clicking links or into giving up personal information or credentials. Their tactics can be very sophisticated and subtle, or even threatening. No matter which approach they try to use, don’t buy into it. Train yourself and your loved ones to spot phishing and other scams.
The same goes for unsolicited calls asking you for any ID or account numbers or otherwise trying to coerce you into giving them other information or even money. Avoid giving any information out to someone that called you. Your bank and credit card issuers will never call or email you to ask for that kind of information.
#7 Know your credit score and what’s on your credit report
Check your current scores with the three major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), and review your reports in-depth to confirm they are accurate and error-free. Being well versed in your reports is the best way to spot fraudulent charges or accounts in your name.
If you do spot errors or fraudulent issues on your report, take the time to resolve them by contacting the credit bureaus individually using their respective dispute processes. You should also inform (in writing) the companies that provided the errant data to the credit bureaus.
#8 Freeze your credit
A credit freeze keeps sensitive information in your credit file safe by blocking access without your specific consent. It also prevents cybercriminals from opening fraudulent accounts. Just as important, enacting a freeze won’t damage your credit score, and you’ll still have access to your credit reports (as will your current creditors). If you use a credit monitoring service, you will continue to receive alerts about changes and suspicious activity.
To freeze your credit, you must contact each of the credit bureaus separately. You can also freeze the credit of any children under the age of 16.
#9 Sign up for text alerts for your credit cards and bank accounts
With text alerts, you don’t have to wait until you view your credit card or bank statements to become aware of suspicious activity on your accounts. You can sign up to be notified via text anytime charges occur (or are attempted) over a certain amount, without a card present, or for charges that take place internationally or outside of your normal purchasing behavior.
Receiving and responding to a text message about potentially fraudulent activity on your accounts is a more proactive way to protect your money—and far easier than trying to catch and dispute those charges later with your bank or card issuer.
#10 Designate legal representation
Executors, powers of attorney, and trustees are people who can take on managing your affairs, if you become unable to do so due to illness or death. Designating a legal representative can ensure that your accounts are taken care of, but it’s also an important step to prevent identity theft, which can be common after someone dies.
Managing your wealth isn’t just about a balanced portfolio and smart investing choices. Keeping your accounts and information secure is just as important. If you have questions about how you can best protect your wealth and financial well-being, we’re here to help. Give us a call today.