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Protecting Your Financial Information

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1Safety Measures

There’s a big safety measure that you should make a twice yearly routine: Change your online account passwords. With so many of us managing our financial lives online, a security breach can spell disaster. One line of defense is to change your access codes at least twice a year. Scheduling the chore to coincide with the changing of your clocks in March and November makes it easier to remember. It’s hard enough to remember where you put your car keys, let alone all the accounts you set up. Accounts like your checking and savings accounts, credit cards, brokerage accounts, mortgage PINs, even company 401k accounts.

2Passwords

Protecting yourself online? Then change your password regularly. Your password should use a complex assortment of letters, numbers, and random punctuation marks. And don’t just use your dog’s name or kids’ birthdays. (Everyone does that.) A few suggestions: Words separated by any character that requires you to press the “shift” key are always good.  Nonsensical words that have numbers or characters within them are good also. Remember, someone is always willing to try to hack you and rip off your privacy, especially online. So change those passwords, at least twice a year.

3Technology Can Be Your Enemy

Passwords are only one line of defense against hackers. Be sure to take other measures to keep the bad guys at bay. Don’t put the good stuff on a handheld device. Don’t put any sensitive info on your iPod, iPad, cell phone or other portable devices, unless you are using a bank preferred secure App. And if you must, handcuff it to yourself. If you lose your iPhone, having your Social Security number and a list of bank and brokerage accounts isn’t very smart. Next, don’t click that! We’ve all gotten those emails from banks we don’t even do business with saying that there’s a problem with our nonexistent account. Bogus. Scam. Rip-off. Ignore the solicitations.

4Spyware

Protecting your financial information? See if anyone’s spying. To guard against the less obvious snoops, take a tour of your computer to see whether anyone’s lurking. Run your anti-virus and Malware software regularly. Yesterday I was talking about online phishing. A term which means bandits try to rip you off by getting you to give up your account numbers and passwords. Well, it can also happen offline when, for example, a thief gets information about where you bank or do business and then calls and tries to get additional information from you — such as your password. Hang up and then call your financial institution directly to see if there’s a legit problem.

5Security

Regularly review your data for security leaks: Actually look at your credit card and bank account statements to make sure no funny business has taken place. If a bill or bank or other account statement is late, call the provider and find out why. You want to make sure that someone hasn’t ferreted through your mailbox or inbox for personal information. Sadly, this is only a partial list of protective measures. If you’re really paranoid, got to the FTC’s Identity Theft website at consumer.gov/IDtheft. It’s updated regularly with the latest scams. Don’t forget: be safe, be smart, be protected.

I've been an investment strategist and adviser for over 35 years, leading with a mission of unbiased advice to educate and protect listeners on my weekly radio show on NPR affiliates nationwide. I have been named a “Top 100 Wealth Advisor” by Worth Magazine and “Top Advisor” by Reuters.