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Protect Yourself From Identity Theft During the Holidays

Written By Gary S. Williams, CFP®, CRPC®, AIF® and Nicholas A. Ibello, CFP®, AIF® February 6, 2019
identity theft and cyber security

With the holidays rapidly approaching, we are consistently hearing a lot of our clients talk about the cyber security. Staying safe online in this digital world deserves our attention more than ever, especially during the holiday season. Online hackers focus on oblivious internet users during this time of year to steal billions of dollars. Tenable, a cybersecurity company in Columbia, Maryland estimates about $5.4 billion in losses throughout the holidays just from stolen credit card and payment information. Here are 5 things you can do today to help you avoid being a victim of a cybercrime.

1. Be Aware when using Wi-Fi Hotspots

Public Wi-Fi is everywhere, and the availability of free Wi-Fi at your local Starbucks, airport, or hotel is incredibly convenient to traveling professionals. Of course, this convenience comes at a price;the risk of hackers accessing your information. With public Wi-Fi, there is no passcode, meaning anyone can see what you’re doing, if they wanted. Hackers can see any websites you are visiting, along with anything you are typing into unencrypted websites such as passwords.

Some experts believe that public interest access is so risky that it is best to just avoid it all together. Therefore, if you need to access a public internet hotspot, it would be much safer to just check news sites or look at a map to determine where you should eat your next meal. Accessing anything financial such as your bank accounts, or purchasing anything during your use of a public Wi-Fi should be avoided.

2. Shopping through Emails

Online shoppers are cyber attacker’s number one target during the holiday season. These attackers are professionals who are mimicking emails from companies such as Amazon or Nordstrom. Scammers can send millions of emails to unsuspecting internet users, trying to get you to act quickly and click on links. These unsolicited emails can reference anything such as issues with your credit card, the status of an online order, or a great price. One of the top security precautions you can use to avoid this situation would be to not click any links in these emails, but to type the website into your web browser. While it might take a little more effort, it is worth it to avoid any malicious websites.

3. Pay with Credit – Not Debit

One of the most important rules, if not the most important rule, in regards to online shopping is always use a credit card, not your debit card. Credit card theft takes place every day, therefore credit cards companies work with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to ensure consumer protection against fraud. Your maximum liability for any fraudulent credit card transactions is $50, and many credit cards promise zero liability. When compared to any fraudulent charges on your debit card, your personal liability can range from $500 to an unlimited amount. The other risk with a debit card is that cyberattackers could access all of your personal money, leaving you with nothing while the bank sorts out the fraudulent charges. If you an avid online shopper, be sure to check your accounts frequently this holiday season.

4. Look for the “S”

Most people are price sensitive when shopping for their friends and family. As we search the depths of the internet looking for the best deal, we can get distracted by clicking on unreliable and unknown websites. First, shopping at trustworthy websites is one of the main ways to avoid becoming a cyber security victim. Also, it is incredibly important to verify the URL of the website you are currently visiting before you enter any personal or financial information. The website address should begin with HTTPS:// rather than just HTTP://. Having that extra “s” at the end indicates that encryption is being used and your personal information is being protected.

5. Utilize a Strong Password

Passwords are the cornerstones of keeping your personal information safe in our digital age. Without a strong, secured password, hackers are able to access everything about you. It is not uncommon for most people to have the same password for all of their online accounts. While this might be the most convenient method, it also puts you at the most risk. It Is prudent to create different passwords for every financial account you have access to online. These passwords should be unique, and even sentences if you want to go the extra mile. Do not forget to keep a log of these passwords as well.

Password security is trending into the direction of the use of password managers. Many people do not have the temperament or time to go back and change all of their old passwords, as well as keeping an up-to-date log. Password managers help you create, store and organize all of your online passwords. For your convenience, take a look at PC Magazines’ top rated password managers for 2016 here. While many come with an annual fee, that cost might be worth protecting your financial life.

Let the Certified Financial Planner™ professionals at Williams Asset Management help with your wealth management needs. Whether you need comprehensive and holistic financial planning or investment management, we can help!  We are fee-based, independent financial advisors located in Columbia, the heart of Howard County, Maryland.  Schedule your complimentary consultation today by calling (410) 740-0220!