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Written by Thomas M. Geier, CPA, CFP ®, PFS

Ways to Safeguard Your Personal & Financial Information

Cyber-attacks are the fastest growing crime in the U.S. As our use of technology continues to grow, this figure will proceed to multiply, as will the damage and cost associated with it. As our understanding of cybercrime evolves, so too does the cyber criminal’s ingenuity and determination to find new ways to access your personal information and private data.

Alarming Statistics

  • According to the 2018 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy and Research, about 60 million Americans have been affected by identity theft with 16.7 million people in the U.S. being identity theft victims in 2017 alone.
  • The United States is the number one target for targeted cybercrime attacks, according to Symantec’s research from 2015-2017, accounting for 38% of the overall cybercrime pie.
  • $230,000 new malware samples are produced every day, according to Panda Security.
  • More than 4,000 ransomware attacks occur every day, according to the FBI.
  • Damage related to cybercrime is projected to hit $6 trillion annually by 2021, according to Cybersecurity Ventures.
  • Verizon reports users in the U.S. open 30 percent of phishing emails, with 12 percent of those targeted by these emails clicking on the infected link attachments.
  • In 2018, there was a hacker attack every 39 seconds that affected one in three Americans each year.
  • Annual online payment fraud losses from, e-commerce, airline ticketing, money transfer, and banking services, will reach $48 billion by 2023, according to Juniper Research.

What do all these statistics convey? Cybercrime is expanding at an alarming rate, and no one is exempt from the dangers it poses. The best course of action anyone can take is to be aware and educated as to the risks inherent in operating within an online world. Enacting safeguards and tasks that help support protecting your personal data is crucial. Taking these steps can not only help protect your personal data but also mitigate the damages you could sustain should you fall victim to cybercrime.

Steps You Can Take

Use Strong Passwords & Pins

Keep them secret. Use a combination of letters, numbers, and if allowed, symbols. Change them regularly and don’t use the same one for multiple sites. Utilize a strong password and fingerprint or touch ID to lock your phone.

Ensure You Have Up to Date Security Software

This includes anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection. Make sure this software also includes security patches, and that it is configured for automatic updates.

Avoid Using Public Computers

If you have to use one, delete your temporary internet files or “cache” and clear all of your history.

Do Not Use Unsecured Wi-Fi Connections

These connections don’t provide as much security as either wired internet connections, encrypted wireless networks, or your cellular data connections. Be careful utilizing hotspots in places like airports or restaurants, as they oftentimes reduce their security settings.

Use Secure Websites

Secure websites are typically evidenced by the URL beginning with “https” instead of “http” (the “s” ensures all communication with the website is encrypted) and a key or locked padlock image being displayed in the status bar. Log out completely when closing out your financial institution’s website.

Lock Your Apps & Be Aware of Third Parties

Ensure you lock your apps on your phone and watch out for third-party app stores. Symantec’s Internet and Security Report of 2018 found third-party app stores hosted 99.9% of discovered mobile malware.

Monitor Your Credit

You can obtain a free credit report from each of the major credit bureaus once per year. Reputable sites are Credit Karma or Annual Credit Report.

Beware of Links or Attachments

Be leery of links or attachments that come from unrecognizable or suspicious emails. They could contain malicious programs designed to install spyware or harm your computer. 92 percent of malware is delivered via email.

Back Up Your Files

Ransomware is malware that places restrictions on a computer that can be lifted only when a payment is made. If you back up your files to an external hard drive, they will be kept safe.

Sign up for Alerts

Many banks and credit card companies have notification services that allow them to contact you in the event of unusual activity. Usually you can sign up for this from their home page.

Review Your Credit Card Statements & Bank Statements

Make reviewing your credit card statements and bank statements a habit. Set a task to do this once a month for bank statements and every week or every other week for credit card statements. Try to use credit cards for online shopping rather than debit cards. Most credit cards come with zero-fraud liability but even for those that don’t, the liability is capped at $50. Federal protections are greater for purchases made on credit cards, and they are usually easier to work with when disputing charges.

Use Multi-Factor Authentication

When accessing banking or any kind of financial institution data, ensure multi-factor authentication is being used. A multi-factor authentication is an approach to security that requires an end user to provide more than one type of identification factor before a transaction can take place (typically financial institutions utilize codes).

Subscribe to Identity Protection

There are many identity protection companies who will monitor your credit cards, SSN and other data for a fee. They can notify you if unusual activity appears on credit applications, public records, websites, and more. Some of the top-rated companies that provide identity protection services are Identity Guard, LifeLock, Identify Force, and Protect My ID.

Follow Proper Protocol

If you believe you’ve become a victim of a cybercrime, alert the local police, and in some instances, the FBI and Federal Trade Commission. If you think your identity has been stolen:

  • Contact the company or bank(s) where you know fraud has occurred
  • Place fraud alerts and obtain your credit report
  • Sign up for monitoring service if you don’t already have one in place
  • Report identity theft to the FTC

We live in a world that is constantly evolving. Some of the advancements we’ve seen have had positive effects, and some, negative. As our knowledge and capabilities within the technology industry skyrocket, our opportunities for advancement rise. However, we must not lose sight of the fact that for every yin there is a yang. Our exposure to cyber threats increases, and the damage it inflicts continues to grow at a rate that can’t be ignored.

Sources: Finra/ Forbes/ Education Connection/ Symantec

© Geier Asset Management, Inc. Jan. 2019. Thomas M. Geier, CPA, CFP ®, PFA is a Vice President of Geier Asset Management, Inc., a Registered Investment Advisor. The articles & opinions expressed in this material were gathered from a variety of sources, but are reviewed by Geier Asset Management, Inc. prior to its dissemination. All sources are believed to be reliable but do not constitute specific investment advice. The views expressed are those of the firm as of January 2019 and are subject to change. These opinions are not intended to be a forecast of future events, a guarantee of results, or investment advice. Any advice given is general in nature and investors must consider their own individual circumstances. In all cases, please contact your investment professional before making any investment choices. Geier Asset Management, Inc. is not responsible for any damages or losses arising from any use of this information. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.