Your financial health can affect almost every part of your life. For instance, a good credit score can improve your chances of getting the car of your dreams or play a deciding role in whether you get the house you want.
You work hard for your money, and protecting your finances from potential threats is important. So, with October being Cyber Security month, it’s the perfect time to look at how you can protect yourself—and your finances— from the fraudsters of the world.
Why It’s Important to Stay In the Know
Hacking is as old as the internet itself. In the 1970s, the first hackers were known as 'phreakers' who would use their tech-savvy abilities to access free long-distance phone calls; however, as technology has become more sophisticated, so have the scams themselves. Instead of free calls being the main goal, most cybercrime is now focused on stealing money and information.
Whether you unknowingly open a suspicious email or have your computer hacked, there are plenty of opportunities for scammers to access your information. Because of this, knowing what to look for and how you could be leaving your financial information vulnerable is essential to maintaining your financial health.
What Are the Most Common Scams?
There are countless scams out there that people can use to gather your information. On top of this, there are multiple ways people can hack into your devices to collect your personal information. To help you better understand how your information may be vulnerable, here are some of the most common scams people may face.
- Phishing: This is one of the most common ways to obtain information from any victim or target. Using a disguised email address, phishing scammers will send messages pretending to be a person or company you know with the hopes that you send back sensitive information. Once you do this, they use your information to gather your social media and banking logins to steal money.
- Password cracking: Password cracking is the reason it’s advised that you create a password that’s as varied and unpredictable as possible. Usually, password cracking happens by either running through a set of the most common passwords people use or using brute force to run through likely options based on your interests.
- Vishing: A form of social engineering that can use spoofed phone numbers to call a victim's telephone to request payment or information.
- Smishing: A form of social engineering that typically uses text messages to request payment or information from victims.
- Malware: A program inserted into a system, usually covertly, with the intent of compromising the confidentiality, integrity, or availability of the victim's data, applications, or operating system.
- Ransomware: A form of malware that holds a victim's data hostage on their computer, typically through robust encryption.
- Fake shopping sites: These fake storefronts can be tricky, as they’ll promise you great deals on electronics or goods, only to have you pay for something that you won’t receive. Once you put your credit card information in, fraudsters will use that information to access your online accounts and steal your money.
- Downloadable viruses and information gathering programs: The main reason we're told never to download anything from a non-reputable source is that many scammers will use malware to gain access to your information.
All of these scams can cause a major drain on someone's finances and could leave them open to identity theft or credit fraud.
Technology to Protect Your Money
Scams seem to be getting more sophisticated every day, but luckily, the hi-tech measures individuals can take to protect themselves are more secure than ever. From digital wallets to computer security systems, there are multiple ways you can keep your financial information safe.
Use a Digital Wallet
Using a digital wallet can do wonders. A digital wallet is a software that you can install on your phone that holds your financial information, such as your credit and debit cards. Not only does it offer convenience—as you can make most transactions with a simple wave of your smartphone—but it provides greater security for your financial information by encrypting your data. This type of service puts a firm line between your money and the merchants you're paying. It can also often hold cryptocurrency, which further separates the user from the seller. This can protect you from having your card or banking information stolen.
Keep Your Computer Virus-Free
Another good idea is to ensure your computer is protected against viruses and has a good firewall set up. For example, if you use Windows, it can be as simple as going into your system settings, turning Windows Firewall on, and adjusting the settings to your liking. You may even take it a step further and install antivirus software that can help identify and delete malware trying to access your computer. There are many different antivirus programs, so when choosing the best one for you, it's essential to do your research beforehand and ensure you choose a legitimate one.
Try Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN)
You might look into using a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which can protect your network connection when using public wifi. It essentially makes your browsing date unrecognizable, so your personal information and browsing history is hidden from third parties and potential fraudsters. Although the classic approach was to proxy through websites that only do this service, the more modern approach is to purchase subscriptions through trusted companies that can add their product to your browser so you can turn your VPN on or off as you please.
Life Changes to Protect Yourself
On top of technologically safeguarding yourself from suspicious activity, there are other simple safety measures you can integrate into your daily online use that can do wonders towards keeping your financial information secure.
Look Closely at Email Addresses
The most important life change you can make to protect yourself is to avoid clicking links you don't recognize and treat every email from an unrecognized sender as possible phishing. Even if you do recognize the sender’s name, be sure to look at the actual email address, as many scammers may pose as someone you know but use unusual numbers and characters.
Be Wary When Shopping Online
Additionally, when shopping online, try to only buy from legitimate store websites. If you get an email or are intrigued by an online ad, but feel the deal may be too good to be true, do your research before making a purchase. A simple internet search could show that the company is just a front for fraudsters trying to take advantage of you. In any case, it’s important to be wary when inputting any sensitive information online.
What to Do if You’re Scammed or Hacked
If you realize that your financial information has been compromised, there are a few steps you can take right away.
- Report debit and credit card fraud to your financial institution
- Change the passwords to your main financial accounts
- Freeze or cancel your cards or spending accounts
- If it was through a website, report the site to the FTC
- Consider filing a police report
- Move forward with caution in future interactions
- Update antivirus softwar
Whether you’re online shopping or using public wifi, remember to take extra precautions. By staying alert and reporting any suspicious activity, you can help prevent fraudsters from accessing your financial information.