Storing and accessing your financial documents online is increasingly easy and convenient. With this convenience is increased temptation for cyber-thieves. Data stored on your home computer, smartphone or other mobile device, when leaked, can lead to identity theft and other financial crimes. Should you stop using the Internet for your banking and other financial needs? That’s probably not realistic. There are, however, three basic steps to take to protect yourself and your documents.
1. Secure Mobile Devices
Your mobile devices, though convenient, are especially vulnerable to hackers. Not only can they potentially access your information via the airwaves, but a lost (or stolen) device contains a treasure-trove of information. Always set your phone to auto-lock. This protects your information if you step away from your device for a few minutes. Depending on the amount of sensitive data you store on your mobile phone, you might want to invest in a service that tracks your phone if it is stolen and will lock and wipe your phone. You can even set up your phone (or buy an app) so it will erase your data if your password is entered incorrectly a set number of times.
2. Backup Records Offsite
Keep a copy of all of your financial and personal records away from the originals. Mobile devices can be lost or stolen and your home computer can be damaged in a fire or a storm. One of the easiest ways is to scan paper records, such as your passport, marriage license and birth certificate, and store these with your computer files and financial records on an external hard drive that you keep in a safety deposit box or other secure location. If you don’t want to constantly manually update and transport physical media, however, you can also contract with a cloud service or online backup service to store your information on their secure off-site servers.
3. Password Protect Everything
Put a password on everything, and make it a challenging one – complex and unique. Don’t use your birth date, pet’s name, password or qwerty! Change your passwords frequently, especially to access your financial information. Identity protection takes diligence. Applications like Roboform will create random passwords with both letters and numbers for you.
Turn off Bluetooth when not in use. Bluetooth also makes your data vulnerable to thieves who can pair your signal with theirs and gain access to your information. WiFi signals, too, can easily be hacked by thieves using the same hot spot. That innocent-looking soccer mom sitting across from you in the coffee shop might not be all that innocent.
The bottom line: Enjoy the freedom and flexibility that online transactions offer, but make sure you have systems set up so they dissuade hackers and other cyber criminals and so that you don’t lose your key personal and financial information should your computer or smartphone be lost or destroyed.