Savvy Steps to Stay Cyber-Safe

Americans lose tens of billions of dollars each year to financial fraud. In the digital frontier, many crimes - including identity theft, tax fraud, and elder abuse - are committed by online outlaws, making cybersecurity all the more important. As cybercrime becomes more prevalent, learn how to defend yourself with simple, everyday practices that can help protect your identity, your accounts, and your devices.

Fighting Fraud

Familiarize yourself with common scams to help protect your assets and your identity. Often, identity thieves pretend to be someone they're not, whether they're claiming to be from a legitimate organization, acting as though they are in love or purporting to be someone you trust. The effort is an attempt to induce you to reveal personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Crimes such as these fall under the umbrella of phishing, a popular fraudulent activity.

Never click on the unknown. If you receive an email from a reputable company, go directly to their website. If you receive an unexpected email from someone you know, call them before opening it. Additionally, never reveal your passwords and only use credit card numbers on sites you're confident are secure. If you have any doubt, refrain from revealing personal information.

Tax season is a notable time to take extra precaution as email compromise and mail theft tend to crop up each year and more than 537,750 tax fraud victims are reported to the IRS annually. Remember that the IRS will never request personal or financial information by email, phone, text message or social media, nor will they threaten you with lawsuits, imprisonment, or other enforcement action if you have done nothing wrong. Elect to receive your tax forms online rather than in your mailbox, where they may be at risk of physical theft, and file as soon as possible to decrease the likelihood that someone will maliciously file on your behalf.

Prudent Prevention

By taking small steps toward a safe online presence, you and your loved ones will be less likely to experience a loss of personal information and privacy. There are a number of everyday practices to follow.

  • Improve your passwords: use complex and unique passwords that are different for each account. Include numbers, capital and lowercase letters, and symbols.
  • Take it one step further: turn on two-step authentication for your accounts - a security process in which the user provides two means of identification rather than one.
  • Opt for biometric identification: on top of your standard password, consider adding a photo of your face, the sound of your voice, or an image of your fingerprint to your protective arsenal.
  • Keep an eye on apps: before you download an app, review the privacy policy and what data (such as location) the app can access.
  • Clean up your mess: keep your electronics free from malware and viruses. Apply updates and patches on computers and mobile devices as soon as possible, and wipe computers and mobile devices of data before selling or disposing of them.
  • Use public wireless networks with caution: avoid visiting sensitive websites or conducting financial transactions on an unsecure network.
  • Post prudently: be mindful of what you're posting to social media platforms, and avoid sharing personally identifiable information. Check privacy settings to ensure that you are not sharing your profile with people you don't know.
  • Be alert to risks online: never open attachments or links in suspicious emails or from senders you don't recognize.
  • Secure your information: keep software up to date and install an antivirus product. Shred sensitive material or store securely in a digital or physical vault.

This article originally appeared on RaymondJames.com.