Protecting your financial information is key nowadays with all the data breaches happening. With the recent Equifax breach all over the news, people are scrambling to check their bank and credit card accounts.  Unfortunately, simple everyday activities like using our debit card or even answering the phone can put your data at risk.  For this reason, it is crucial to make sure you are properly protecting your financial information.

Below are 10 simple and easy things you can do today to protect your financial information

Change your passwords if you want to protect your financial information

At the most basic level, if you want to protect your financial information you should look at your passwords.  The ones you set for things like your bank account and personal email should be complex and non repetitive. Using your social security number or any other personal details as your password is a big no no.  You also want to stay away from using any details that are listed on any social media accounts for answers to security questions or as part of a password.  For example, if you list your hometown of New York City, someone could easily use that information to hack an account.

In an age where we do everything via our phones and computers, it may seem simple to send out personal details. With that being said, any bank account or social security numbers should never be shared over the internet.  If you really need to send these details to someone, you should use an e-fax service.

Slow down

When it comes to protecting your financial information, the key is to slow down.  There are many scams out there that are happening everyday, especially after a major data breach occurs.  If you receive an email asking for any personal financial information, take your time reading it.  If it has any spelling or grammatical errors, it is most likely a scam.  In addition, if a company contacts you asking for information right away, pause. Do not click on anything and delete the email.  Also beware of attachments.  They are a very simple way for scammers to give you malware or a virus on your computer. For this reason, you want to stay on top of updating your security software.

Do not answer calls from unknown numbers

Scammers are very good at what they do and they can easily spoof their number to make it seem like you are receiving a call from an actual company.  If you receive a call from a number that seems suspicious, ignore it.  If you do answer and they start asking for information, hang up right away.

Protect your financial information by only shopping on secure websites

Prior to providing sensitive information like a credit card number on a website, look at your browser.  If the website address starts with “https” and not “http,” you can be assured that it is a secure site.  The “s” stands for secure and means all the communication between you and the site is encrypted. If you are dealing with a smaller website, you may not have that option and the risk is a little higher.  If you are using public wi-fi like the one offered at Starbucks, you definitely do not want to enter any personal details on any websites.

Be wary of how you pay

With so much focus on security in online shopping, you cannot forget about protecting your financial information in person.  Try keeping at most two credit cards on you at any given time that way you minimize the damage if your wallet is stolen.  When making a payment, opt to use a credit card as opposed to your debit card.  Credit cards tend to have more protections attached to them.  If someone gains access to your debit card, they can empty your account.

If you need to get cash, stick to getting it from the ATM at the bank.  Stay away from using a stand alone ATM at a restaurant or gas station.  If you do use one and your card jiggles when you put it in, there may be a skimmer there.

When paying with a check, head to the post office to mail it out.  Leaving mail with sensitive information in your mailbox leaves you open to fraud.

Monitor your credit

With all the data breaches and identity theft occurring these days, monitoring your credit report is essential.  You should have an idea of what your credit score is and keep an eye on it for any drastic changes.  Everyone is entitled to a free credit report every year from the 3 major credit agencies (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) and you should get one from each throughout the year that way you can compare.  Credit Karma or AnnualCreditReport are both reputable sites you can use.

If you think you may forget about checking on your credit report, you can always sign up for a credit monitoring service like LifeLock. They will notify you any time there is suspicious activity under your name. If you really think your identity may be compromised, call the credit agencies and put a freeze on your credit and think about contacting a credit repair company. You will not be able to get any credit with the freeze and you can call to remove it once you have determined there is no longer an issue.  They key takeaway is to be vigilant when it comes to your personal information.

Do not sync sensitive information to the cloud

Both Android and Iphone devices allow you to automatically sync your information which helps if your phone is lost or it breaks.  This type of convenience can cost you your privacy though. You are putting out personal information into the cloud for the world to access.

Make sure your wireless network is secure

Anytime you access the internet via a Wi-Fi network, you are at risk.  As your network’s radio waves go through your walls, a hacker can set up an antenna and hack into your network from miles away and steal your information. For this reason you should always use additional security protection for your Wi-Fi network.

Do not answer chain email

Even if you have security software installed on your PC, you may still receive things like chain emails asking for personal information. Delete them and move on.  Also make sure not to download files you receive from anyone including from friends and family unless you are aware of the content and you know that it is secure.

Watch your children’s online activity

Kids are always on some sort of device these days.  Make sure you are safeguarding them by installing and using parental controls software.  This lets you monitor their online activity and also keeps them from having access to undesirable web sites and potentially sharing any personal information through online communications.