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Most people leave a trail of data nearly everywhere they go. Some of that data links to critical information, such as bank and credit card accounts. Hackers want access to that information and are constantly deploying new tactics to steal that data from unsuspecting consumers.
You don't have to make it easy for them. These five simple steps can help you protect your financial information from data thieves.
The majority of Americans shop online, and data thieves try to exploit that fact. You can help protect your bank and credit card accounts by sticking to secured websites, which typically include “https” in the Web address and display a locked padlock icon near the address. When using a wireless network outside your home or workplace, avoid making financial transactions unless the network is password-protected.
Make it harder for hackers to access your data by choosing complex passwords that include a mix of numbers, upper- and lower-cased letters and symbols. Steer clear of passwords that use personal information, such as your birth date or address, and avoid using the same password across multiple sites or accounts. Tools such as LastPass and PasswordBox will generate a random password for each site, store them securely and automatically fill them in when you log in to a site, so you only need remember one password.
A stolen smartphone could be as risky to your finances as a stolen wallet, especially if you use mobile apps to manage your finances. So, while you're strengthening the passwords you use online, consider doing the same on your phone. Some newer handsets are now equipped with fingerprint scanners, which could give you an added level of security if your phone is swiped.
Getting cash from an ATM is a fairly routine transaction. Many people insert their card, enter their personal identification number, or PIN, and take their money without giving it much thought. Doing so could put you and your money at risk, though. Before using a cash machine, check your surroundings, and the ATM's card reader and PIN pad, for anything suspicious or unusual. If something seems amiss, it might be wise to find another machine.
Credit and debit card issuers are upping their security game by adding microprocessors to newly issued cards. Known as EMV chips, the devices create a unique code for each transaction with a given account, making it harder for hackers to steal your data or skim it from a card reader. Even if a hacker does get your account information, it's virtually impossible to copy your card and its chip. EMV cards also require users to enter a PIN or give their signature to complete the purchase, adding a layer of security.
Despite taking every precaution, it's possible your data could still be compromised. Use caution when doling out your account information, especially online or over the phone, and keep a close eye on your bank and credit card statements. If you spot signs of a breach, alert your financial institution as soon as possible to help stop the fraud in its tracks.
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