Top 10 Ways to Protect Your Financial Life
You can’t swing a dead (insert least favorite animal here) without hitting a news story about cyber crime these days. Twenty first century technology makes our lives better in so many ways, but it also creates a lot of seams and gaps for criminals to exploit.
When we plan our missions, the objectives usually start with “Kill (the targets) and Survive (the threats).” When we plan our financial missions, we know we want achieve our goals—i.e., kill the targets. But how much time do we spending thinking about defense—surviving the threats?
This list isn’t exhaustive, at least partially because no one will read an article titled “Top 117 Ways to Do Anything,” but it should help you think through how to fortify your defenses. Specific product mentions are not endorsements, but provided to help kickstart your research.
- Security Freeze your credit at the 3 credit bureaus. Placing a security freeze is usually a five-minute exercise online and lifting it temporarily is just as easy. If you’re not constantly applying for loans and credit, you’ll probably only lift it every few years. Thieves have an easier time stealing your identity if they can open new accounts in your name. But quality creditors should see the red flag if there’s a security freeze on your accounts.
www.experian.com www.equifax.com www.transunion.com
- Password managers are extensions to your internet browser and apps for your smart phone. They make it easier to generate, use, and change complex passwords like K!((&[email protected] to convince thieves to move on to the next account that might still be using the old standby: [email protected] Many have free versions that are way better than nothing such as LastPass and Dashlane.
- VPN (Virtual Private Network). A VPN is an application that masks your computer/smartphone from the sites you’re visiting. If you use public Wi-Fi ever, a VPN is a must to protect your data. I would steer clear of free VPN services as most paid services are a few bucks a month and give you much more control and assurance over your data. VPN programs can be set to automatically activate, but I’ve found them to be finicky and usually find myself manually turning them on/off to prevent inadvertently blocking the internet connection completely—which is a small price for the security.
- Prioritize your critical online accounts and actually keep the crucial accounts secure. Most of us have literally hundreds of online accounts to websites, banks, financial institutions, etc. The best sites force you to change your password periodically. If compromised, which accounts could really put the hurt on your life? Probably your bank accounts, investment accounts, TSP/401(k), IRS, Social Security, and the three credit bureaus. If you’re going to be good about frequently changing passwords on any accounts, curate a short list so you’ll actually follow through. Perhaps create a reminder on your smart phone to just do one a month?
- 2-Factor Authentication uses systems like a username, password, plus a temporary code sent via email, text message, or a smartphone app. Systems like these are really painless compared to identity theft. More institutions are mandating 2-factor authentication, but it’s still frequently optional. Opt-in to 2-factor authentication whenever you can.
- Minimize accounts and institutions. Thieves can’t steal money from an account you don’t have. If you have small orphaned 401(k)s from old jobs, IRAs at four different brokerages, or small “high-yield” savings accounts littered all over the financial world—why not thin the herd? More accounts = more logins to keep secure = more ways for thieves to get inside your gates.
- IRS IP PIN. If requested, the IRS will issue you an identity protection personal identification number that you must use to file your tax return. Believe it or not, thieves have filed fraudulent tax returns in order to steal tax refunds. Using a safeguarded PIN can prevent such theft. While it might be nice if someone used your identity to pay your taxes, you probably just want to keep your returns between you and Tax Uncle…
- Monitor your credit files. Most people reading this probably endured the massive OPM data breach a few years ago. Whether it was that breach or another company’s day in the cyber shame spotlight, you may be been offered free or discounted credit monitoring. These services send you alerts when your credit file might have been reviewed as well as other alerts when your personal information might be compromised. If you’ve been part of breach, turning down a credit monitoring service is like turning down your RWR… probably going to generate a few DFPs…
- Home Wi-Fi Security. Unless you happen to be an IT-specialist in your off-duty hours, configuring your home Wi-Fi can be daunting. This is not domain where “hope” makes a good tactic. At a minimum, your home Wi-Fi should have a complex password and ideally be a hidden network. If thieves are looking to breach a network in your neighborhood, they’ll probably go for the softer target. You don’t have to be the fastest, you just can’t be the slowest…
- Lock it up. My local sheriff recently reported that over 80% of car and home thefts in the area involved unlocked doors. (face palm emoji) While cyber security is crucial, the basics of locking up your assets and keeping your laptop/smartphone secured still matter. Opening yourself to physical theft and cyber theft at the same time is not an approved tactic!
Cleared to Rejoin
We spend a great deal of time earning and learning how to secure our financial future, but we have to protect what we have in the present too. Most cyber-hygiene is really just that—small habit changes and life hacks to make yourself a harder target than the next victim. To Kill (achieve the financial goal), you have to Survive (defend against cyber and physical threats)!
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