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Cybersecurity & Identity Theft: 8 Simple Tips to Help Keep Your Information Safe

Personal Finance
Couple in bed safe from cybersecurity and identity theft thanks to good internet practices

Cybersecurity and identity theft are increasingly prevalent concerns for all consumers in a data-driven world. Whether you think you could spot a phishing email campaign or have never even heard of one, a little knowledge can equate to a lot of power when it comes to your data security.

If you own a business, you may have additional assets that make for appealing targets to cybercriminals, so you should take extra caution. Try these simple tips to improve your cybersecurity and keep your identity safe, particularly when it comes to protecting your personal finances.

1. Click With Caution

Checking email from a laptop or mobile device can be an efficient way to stay in touch with your professional and personal lives on the go, but make sure you're not so distracted that you mistake a fraudulent email for the real thing.

If you accidentally follow a link in a phishing email, you could unknowingly download malware onto your device. Once that malware is installed, it may steal data directly from your device or record everything you enter into your phone or computer, including passwords and sensitive financial or personal information, to be intercepted and sent to a cybercriminal.

2. Keep Your Snail Mail Close

Identity theft isn't unique to the online world. In fact, CNBC reported that "mail fishing," or the theft of envelopes from mailboxes in search of credit cards and personal information, has become increasingly common.

To help reduce the odds of this kind of identity theft, CNBC's experts say to take your mail directly to the post office before the last collection time so it doesn't sit in your mailbox overnight. Regularly track your bank and checking account activity to ensure all transactions reached the person or business you intended.

3. Verify Mobile Apps

Mobile apps tend to be more secure than mobile web browsers, but criminals can create fraudulent app versions that fool users into downloading them.

If you want to download an app for mobile banking, payments, budgeting or other financial needs, try to download the app directly from the provider's website instead of an app store. Taking this extra step may be the difference between giving a cyberthief your financial information and keeping it secure.

4. Don't Click on Suspicious Texts

Cyberthieves can try to infiltrate your mobile device by sending texts with a link that asks you to authorize or accept payment from another person, possibly using the name of someone you know.

If you use person-to-person payment apps or similar banking features to move and manage your money, make sure you've securely logged into the provider's website or mobile app to conduct your transaction — not from a text.

5. Update Your Software

Mobile operating system software updates are released regularly for a number of reasons. Sometimes it's due to a simple bug or glitch that's interrupting user experience — but other times, it's because a security vulnerability has been detected and needs to be patched right away.

Be sure the software for every verified application and operating system is up to date across all of your devices so that any known vulnerabilities are covered.

6. Coordinate Vendor Behavior

Vendors who accept credit cards are supposed to follow the rules established by the Payment Card Industry (PCI) Security Standards Council. In addition to offering customers the ability to pay using their EMV chip card (which is believed to be more secure than swiping a magnetic strip), merchants are not supposed to keep paper records of customer credit card numbers.

If a vendor's payment terminal temporarily goes down when you're at checkout, do not allow anyone to write your credit card number down on paper for later processing. You have no control over how it will be used or whether it will be properly destroyed.

7. Stay Aware & Alert

Sign up for text message alerts and emails for real-time notifications of your credit card activity. If someone tries to use your account and is able to succeed, you can contact your credit card issuer or bank immediately to prevent further fraud.

8. Ensure Secured Connections

Never log into your online bank account or exchange any type of personal information online unless the connection is secure and password-protected. If you check the status of your bank account over a public Wi-Fi "hot spot," your activity could be intercepted.

If you need to provide personal financial information or documents to your bank, mortgage loan officer or financial or client service representative, do so over an encrypted, password-protected connection, not standard email or an unsecured phone line. If someone were to breach your email account, they could access all of your financial information with little effort.

The issue of cybersecurity and identity theft may sound complex, but knowledge is power when it comes to protecting yourself from attempts to compromise your identity. Remember these tips any time you're asked to share sensitive information — or whenever you use apps, email and mobile devices to communicate and manage your finances — to help keep identity thieves and cybercriminals at bay.

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