By Charlestien Harris
October is National Financial Planning Month, and as consumers, we disseminate vast amounts of financial information regularly. Just as we safeguard our homes and cars with theft alarms, we must do the same for our financial records.
In today’s electronic age, most of your personal financial information exists online. While this makes managing your finances easier and more efficient, it also exposes us to the risks of financial fraud and identity theft. Therefore, it is imperative to take steps to secure your personal financial information. The following tips can help.
Keep your operating system and software up to date. If you, like me, have an older computer and prefer the familiar ways of doing things, be aware that this can increase your vulnerability to identity theft or fraud. Software and operating system updates often include security fixes, making it essential to enable automatic updates on all devices. Additionally, use a reputable internet browser such as Chrome or Firefox, as they are more likely to receive regular updates with the latest security protections.
Use strong passwords. While changing passwords and creating unique ones for each account might seem inconvenient, it is crucial for financial security. Select robust passwords that are difficult to guess. Change your passwords regularly and avoid using the same password for multiple accounts. This way, if one account is compromised, others remain protected. Also, refrain from keeping a list of passwords in an unsecured location.
Shred financial documents. It’s not just your online data that’s at risk; fraudsters sift through people’s trash for personal and financial information. Bank statements, bills, and other financial documents provide the data fraudsters need to access your accounts. Therefore, it’s vital to shred all statements and documents before discarding them. If you don’t own a shredder, a good pair of scissors works just as well. Cut unwanted mail and documents into tiny pieces to make it challenging for thieves to reconstruct them.
Access your credit reports and monitor your accounts. Major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) allow consumers to access one free report annually. Currently, consumers can check their credit weekly for free, indefinitely. Utilize this opportunity to review these reports and ensure there are no unexpected errors. Additionally, promptly identify fraudulent transactions by consistently monitoring your accounts. Log into each account a few times a week to review recent transactions. Setting up online banking alerts to notify you of any unauthorized or suspicious activity is also advisable.
Never share your personal information with unsolicited inquiries. Your personal financial information is yours to safeguard. Only share it with your spouse, trusted family member, or friend. Both online and offline, fraudsters impersonate others to gain access to your financial information. Refrain from providing your personal financial information through mail, phone, or the Internet unless you initiated the contact and are certain of the recipient’s identity. Always contact the customer service department of any company directly through their trusted website or customer service number to confirm any requests for your financial information.
We live in a world heavily reliant on the Internet, which presents its challenges, with information and identity theft being major concerns. With millions engaged in online shopping, banking, and money transfers, the risk of personal financial information theft is higher than ever before. Scammers can pose as your bank or service provider, requesting credit card details via email or mail. They may even send malware to your devices, attempting to obtain your financial information without your knowledge.
Your aim, in following the suggestions mentioned above, is to safeguard your personal financial information and prevent it from falling into the wrong hands.
For more information on this or other financial topics, please feel free to email me at Charlestien.Harris@banksouthern.com or call me at 662-624-5776.
Until next week – stay financially fit!
Charlestien Harris is a financial contributor to DeSoto County News. She is a financial expert with Southern Bancorp Community Partners whose articles are seen in a number of publications around the region. You’ll be seeing her columns weekly on the DeSoto County News website and our social media channels.