As we navigate the online landscape, we’re increasingly vulnerable to phishing attempts and other types of financial data theft. While no solution can guarantee complete security, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of falling prey to financial fraud. Here are some proactive measures to consider:

Don’t open emails from people you don’t know

It’s best practice to not open emails from individuals or organizations you don’t know. While just opening them is usually harmless, it can quickly cause damage if you download any malicious files or shady attachments, respond to the email’s request for credit card or bank account numbers, or click on any phishing links. Email filters have improved over the years and cast many of those emails to your junk or spam folder, but your email address could easily be found if you’ve posted it on social media or have been part of a data breach. Always have your guard up when checking your inbox.

Use strong passwords and change them frequently

Passwords help keep your personal information safe from dishonest people. Pick a password that is hard to guess, use different passwords for each website, and change them frequently. In the U.S., the most used password in 2024 is “123456.”

Use the internet safely

As society becomes more mobile, using public Wi-Fi is inevitable. But beware: it is less secure than a private connection and can leave you vulnerable to hackers. Avoid shopping online and entering sensitive information when using a public computer, and make sure you’ve logged out from every site when leaving.

Double check email addresses from businesses and be wary of links

Scammers are getting better at enticing people to click on suspicious links. Oftentimes, they’ll pose as a reputable business such as Amazon by using a fake but similar email address. It might have an extra character like a hyphen or swap out a character like “Amaz0n.” These emails often include an offer for a gift card and require you to enter sensitive information such as your credit card number. Another common scheme is to pose as a government agency saying that you have unclaimed property worth a significant amount of money. They provide a link, which will lead you to another phony website asking for information such as your Social Security number. Please know that a reputable business will never ask for sensitive personal information via email or text message. If you receive a similar request, contact the company directly to ensure any communication is legitimate.

Shred or destroy sensitive information

Fraudsters have been known to grab valuable items from the trash and also dig through garbage cans to look for credit card or bank statements. Always shred and dispose of sensitive papers in a secure console, particularly documents that include account numbers, birth date, Social Security numbers, or tax information.

Review your bank accounts monthly and check your credit report annually

Thanks to technology, we have access to our financial accounts at any time. Be sure to review your credit card and bank statements regularly to ensure that every charge is valid. If you find something suspicious, the sooner you contact your financial institution, the better. At least once a year, contact a credit reporting agency such as Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to request a copy of your credit report so you can review it to ensure all information is correct.

Stay informed

The best way to stay safe from falling victim to an online scam is to be aware, alert, and diligent. Online scammers are constantly developing new ways to commit financial fraud. If something seems suspect, trust your gut. Keeping valuable financial information secure is part of fundamental part of any sound financial plan.

Author Jonathon D. Merickel Portfolio Advisor

Jonathon has been involved in the financial services industry since 2002. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Syracuse University and an MBA from Le Moyne College.

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