The 10 Best Ways to Protect Your Financial Data from Cyber Thieves

The rapid advancement of technology has the average person turning to smartphones and computers more often with their sensitive data. Cyber thieves try to stay one step ahead of consumers to steal your information and gain access to financial accounts.

As more personal information moves online, there is an increased need to protect valuable information. Public files give thieves basic information such as addresses, birthdates, and family names. Thieves only need a few additional pieces of data to access your money or create new accounts with your name.

Here are 10 steps you can take to secure your personal information and reduce the occurrence of identity theft.

Securing Financial Data on Your Desktop and Laptop Computers

Update Programs Frequently. Program updates can come at inconvenient times, but, they close security holes and make it harder for system hacks to occur. When you get a notice that you need to update a program or app, take action or automate the process so you always work with the latest version of the software.

Virus and Firewall Protection. Basic protection starts with anti-virus, malware, and firewall protections which can prevent attacks and eliminate rogue software that makes it onto your computer. Malicious attacks can include programs which place ads on your system, monitor your keystrokes, and other forms of invasion that impact your system’s efficiency and can give a third-party access to your information without your knowledge. Cyber thieves commonly gain access through email, downloads, or surfing on infected or unprotected websites. Firewalls add an additional layer of protection by preventing encrypted programs from downloading onto your computer. Install antivirus and firewall protection on all devices to prevent the spread of a virus among your computers and smartphones.

Use a Secure Network. Wi-Fi is everywhere. At home, you establish a network when you use wireless internet for all devices from the television to smartphones. Password protect your home network and use caution when accessing any password-protected files on a public network. Ensure protection programs are running by checking the device in the security section of the Control Panel.

Use Caution When Buying Online. Cyber thieves create phantom websites that look exactly like the real thing. Except you are not actually ordering anything, just giving cyber thieves the data they need to steal your credit card information. Look for the lock symbol on the checkout page, go directly to the website from your browser, and do not click on email links. Another common tactic is to redirect web searches which have common misspellings to a phantom website.

Beware of Unsolicited Emails. It is common knowledge to be on the lookout for emails claiming you won millions of dollars from a lost relative in Nigeria, you won a lottery you never played, or a good friend needs help with cash to get back home. In addition to these well-publicized schemes, there are others which can include emails from friends with hacked accounts, dating websites, and others designed to separate you from your money. Email links often contain viruses, and cyber thieves can present themselves as friends in order to convince you to give them with your personal information.

Securing Financial Data on Phones and Tablets. Today’s smartphones come with more power and capabilities than desktop computers had a few years ago. Phones serve as a platform for surfing the web, checking emails, and making purchases, yet many consumers forget to protect the smartphone at the same level as a computer. Do you check your bank balance before making a purchase on the store's public wi-fi? Do you surf for sales and then link to the website to buy an item on sale? Each of these transactions can leave you vulnerable to cyber-thieves if you don’t protect your smartphone or tablet.

Virus Protection. Signs of a virus on your device could include a faster drain on your battery, a spike in data usage, frequently dropped calls, slower processing, or higher bills. Start with downloading anti-virus and malware protection. Many companies offer this service bundled with your laptop or desktop protection. Choose a company that frequently updates their security to stay on top of ongoing changes in cyber theft.

Secure Your Device by Locking Access. The latest smartphone feature is buying things with your phone, which means storing credit or debit card data on the phone for faster purchases. Keeping your financial information on your phone makes locking your device more important than ever, so a lost phone will not result in unauthorized purchases. You can lock the smartphone screen with a pin, password, or swipe pattern eliminating another’s access to any information found on the phone. Some new devices have an option for a fingerprint scan, which is the most secure option available.

Use the Parent Controls. Young children are getting smartphones without an understanding of security needs. Without parental controls, they can buy items, access unscrupulous websites, and download viruses without being aware of the consequences of their actions. You can become responsible for their purchases if you do not set tight security measures based on their age and understanding. Parental controls can prevent kids from visiting certain websites, watching unapproved videos or movies, or making purchases without an additional passcode. There are also apps which can track their activity allowing you to monitor phone or computer use. You should discuss security measures and ways to stay safe online as they get old enough to understand.

Use Caution with All Downloads. All apps can download additional software you do not want in the process. Some download cookies which track online activity, while others download programs which can reset your preferences or slow the smartphone or computer down. Free apps are notorious for downloading additional programs you do not want. Carefully read each screen during the download process and unclick boxes that may give authorization not only to download but to subscribe you to services that will find their way to your next bill.

The use of electronic devices is an essential part of our life today, making it more important than ever to protect all your devices from cyber thieves. We rely on our computers and smartphones to direct us to the next location, check bank balances, and track spending. Make sure the conveniences of using computers does not lead to the headaches involved with identity theft.