Whether you’re shopping online, sending an email or accessing your online financial accounts, it’s important to know how to keep your information safe on the web. No longer are others prevented from accessing your information online. As security breaches at major retailers and phone service providers have shown, your information is available.
Swearing off the internet is not, however, the solution. Far better to continue to enjoy the advantages of the internet, but becoming web savvy to keep your information secure.
Save Money and Go On-Line
Electronic distribution in place of mailed paper saves companies money and they often pass the savings on to their customers. Some banks and brokerage firms are waiving fees or offering reduced commissions if you opt-in to receive emailed statements and make transactions and trades online. The Social Security Administration even stopped mailing paper statements to workers in 2011 – saving the government an estimated $70 million annually. Unfortunately, so few people signed up for online statement access that paper copies of Social Security statements will resume being mailed to workers turning 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55 and 60 without an online account. It’s best to check your account annually, so set-up your account at www.SSA.gov.
Make Your Documents Organized and Accessible
With a little planning, online statements can be organized and saved more easily than paper copies. Most online cloud storage services like Evernote, Dropbox, Google Drive and Box also let you share documents securely, avoiding the insecurity of a simple e-mail attachment or the problem of information retrieval from those dusty boxes in the attic.
Find Problems Quicker – Don’t Wait For Monthly Statements
Waiting for your monthly statement in the mail could mean you're finding a problem in your account as much as 30 days after it has happened. Accessing accounts online mid-month will help you catch – and solve – a problem quickly. Always check that your connection to a website is secure and encrypted. Look for https (Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure) in the website address line of your browser.
Use a Strong Password
With the number of online accounts you have, you want to make sure that you are keeping the passwords different and strong! Create passwords using four different types of characters: at least one uppercase letter, lowercase letter, number and symbol (like #, % or @). Consider opting into two factor authentication if your account offers that login feature. Two factor authentication is more secure than a simple password because it involves using two independent pieces of information to access your account. One factor is something you know – your username and password. The second factor comes from something you own and is often a code that’s sent via text message to your phone. If you have a SmartPhone, the code can be sent via an authentication app instead of a text message.
Keeping Track Of All Your Passwords
An organized database of usernames, passwords and security question answers will help avoid the frustration of getting locked out of your accounts. A login credential database should be secure, accessible and sharable in an emergency. This means that you – and only you – should be able to use it regularly to access your accounts and make password changes and updates. The database should be accessible to your power-of-attorney to manage if you’re not able to. Digital inheritance services like SecureSafe.com and PasswordBox.com give you the option to name a beneficiary for your account. If having all of your online passwords stored online is just a little too much internet for you right now, devise a pen and paper process but be sure it’s stored in a secure place, kept up-to-date and is usable by your power-of-attorney.
Did You Know You Can Hide Your IP Address?
For the truly paranoid, you can surf the web anonymously by blocking your IP address. Similar to a street address, every computer has an IP address that identifies it. By hiding your IP address you can avoid giving potential hackers information like your internet provider, browser information and router information which could be used to find other personal information about you online. Hiding your IP address from shopping sites will help reduce spam and will protect you in case the shopping site doesn’t have adequate security.
What If You Get Hacked Anyway?
Despite all your efforts you can still get hacked, but hopefully you’re watching your accounts carefully and will catch the problem quickly. If your credit or bank accounts are compromised, contact the financial institution immediately by phone. Dealing with a hacked email account is tougher. A good reason to maintain an alternative email address is to give yourself a way to communicate with your primary email provider if your email gets hacked and the hacker changes your password. Once you get your email account back – and the password changed – be sure to change all your other passwords as well and let your contacts know to be wary of suspicious activity from your account. If you’re a victim of complete identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission has a checklist and helpful information available at www.consumer.ftc.gov
The online world continues to grow – so it’s important to be comfortable working with your information online. Companies have security to keep your information safe, but sometimes these systems fail. Do your part to keep your data and information safe and secure online!