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How to Protect Your Personal Financial Information

Behavioral Planning

Living in a world that is heavily dependent on the Internet comes with its own fair share of risks, one of the biggest being information and identity theft. With millions of people participating in online shopping, banking, and money transfers, the risk of personal financial information theft is constant and higher than ever before. 

Whether or not you’ve been impacted by a data breach, here are some actions we advise you to consider taking to protect your personal data and accounts:

  • STAY ALERT TO IMPERSONATORS
    Your personal financial information is yours and yours alone to keep. You should only entrust it to your spouse or a very close partner. There are many fraudsters both online and offline pretending to be someone else in order to gain access to your financial information. Never give out your personal financial information through mail, phone, or over the Internet unless you have initiated contact and you have 100% confidence that you know the person you are dealing with. Always double check the address from which an email originated, and be wary of clicking through emailed links and opening unexpected attachments, as these can invite a fraudster through to your computer.

    It is always prudent to contact customer care of any company you are dealing with directly first through their trusted website or customer service number to confirm that they are indeed the ones who made the request for your financial information. 

    Also, be willing to make financial requests or provide verbal confirmation for such requests over the phone with your advisor and/or custodian, appreciating that this secondary step helps keep your information safe.

  • SAFELY DISPOSE OF YOUR PERSONAL FINANCIAL INFORMATION
    Before you dispose of any material or device containing your sensitive financial information, think about what a fraudster could do if they got ahold of that information. For financial information that still comes in the mail, invest in a shredder to help you completely and securely destroy any information printed within your documents. For devices such as computers, laptops, and smartphones, get rid of any financial information stored on them by resetting them to their factory settings before disposal. You can also check your device manufacturer’s website or browse through forums to find other ways to permanently delete information from your device.

  • BE VIGILANT ABOUT COMPUTER SECURITY
    If you engage in financial transactions online (including shopping or sending and receiving money through online money transfer companies), having personal computer firewalls and security software is a must.1Ensure you have anti-virus, spyware, anti-spam, and other crucial security software packages that safeguard you from attacks by malware and viruses. Ensure that these software packages are always turned on and configured to automatically update.

  • DON'T USE A DEBIT CARD
    Every time you use one, you put your money and your bank account at risk. If there’s a large data breach (and you know that there will be) and a criminal does somehow get your credit card number, you’ll be protected and your credit card company will cancel the card and send a new one within days. You won’t be responsible for any purchases made. If the same thing happens and the criminals get your debit card information, however, you could lose the money in your bank account and have a difficult and lengthy time recovering it.

  • ENCRYPT YOUR FINANCIAL INFORMATION ONLINE
    To safeguard your online transactions, you must keep your browser safe and secure at all times. This is possible by using encryption software to scramble any information you transfer through the Internet. Always check for a “lock” icon on your browser’s status bar before sending personal financial information. When the lock is present, your can trust that your information will be safe during transmission.

  • USE STRONG PINS AND PASSWORD, AND KEEP THEM SECRET
    The importance of having strong passwords and PINs cannot be emphasized enough. To protect your personal financial information online, use strong passwords that combine letters, numbers, and symbols. You can also use passphrases instead of passwords because they are more difficult to decipher. You may also opt to use two-factor authentication procedures for added security to your online accounts. Lastly, keep your passwords and login details to various accounts secret and secure. 

  • AVOID OVER-SHARING PERSONAL INFORMATION ON SOCIAL NETWORKING SITES
    If you share too much personal information about yourself on social networking sites, an identity thief may use this information to answer certain ‘challenge’ questions to gain access into your online accounts. Avoid posting your key personal details, such as addresses, phone number, and even your full name on social networking sites.

  • BE EXTRA CAREFUL WHEN USING WIRELESS CONNECTIONS
    Many public wireless networks, such as in airports, cafes, hotels, restaurants, and schools, are not secure enough to risk using when conducting online financial transactions. Don’t check financial accounts while on publicly accessible networks or computers because your keystrokes (and therefore passwords) can be monitored by cybercriminals.

As a fiduciary to our clients, CogentBlue is bound by our fiduciary standard to put our clients’ needs first. Among other responsibilities, that means making sure our clients, and their confidential financial information that we hold, aren’t put at risk of scams, phishing, and a multitude of other techniques employed by cybercriminals.

In addition to regularly reviewing our cybersecurity policies and ensuring we are following best practices, we continue to work with a cybersecurity consultant to find new ways to protect our internal data as well as our clients’ privacy. If implemented correctly, proper controls can prevent 95% of external fraud. Some of the common tactics include:

  • Fraudsters hacking into email accounts, and then sending emails that appear to be from the email owner requesting money transfers, wires, etc.
  • Fraudsters requesting a transfer of account assets online, often to an alternate account where the fraudster has been able to gain access.

In each instance, the fraudster attempts to impersonate someone electronically, thanks to the success of a “phishing” expedition into his or her personal emails and contacts. Sometimes this phishing is accomplished by luring someone into revealing personal information, either by email, through a copy-cat website, or over the phone.

Over the years, we have aided clients as they navigate the threats of cybercrime and protect themselves from attempted security breaches. Unfortunately, as the recent breaches indicate, cybercrime is on the rise and becoming more sophisticated. Looking ahead, we will continue to be on our guard and stay abreast of new ways that we, and our clients, can work to protect their identity and finances.

Do you have questions about how we protect client accounts or the steps you and your family can take to better protect yourselves and mitigate risk? Please call our office or contact us here.


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1 http://www.finra.org/investors/alerts/keeping-your-account-secure-tips-protecting-your-financial-information

This information is provided for educational and informational purposes only and is not to be considered advice.  Information is derived from sources which are believed to be reliable, but are not independently audited. Views and opinions are subject to change at any time based on market and other conditions. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.