Tips to Protect Your Identity and Money in the New Year

Identity theft plagues millions of consumers across the United States. In 2014, nearly 13 million people fell victim to fraud, resulting in a net loss of $16 billion, according to Javelin Strategy & Research’s 2015 Identity Fraud Study.

Although financial institutions and retailers dedicate plenty of resources toward protecting their customers’ sensitive information, individual consumers also play an important role in thwarting this type of crime. Here’s a look at what you can do to ensure that your money doesn’t fall into the wrong hands in the upcoming year.

Set a strong password for your online bank account
People with the most advanced home security systems still lock their doors at night. Setting a strong password for your online bank account is no different: Even if your financial institution spends tons of money on tools to ward off hackers, you still need to make sure that the first line of defense — your password — is robust.

Your password should contain a combination of upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and symbols. Create a different password for each one of your various email, social media and bank accounts. That way, if someone gets hold of your login credentials for Facebook, they won’t also have access to your hard-earned dollars.

Ignore requests for your personal information
Unless you’re certain that the person or company making the request is legitimate, never give out your Social Security or credit card number. If you receive an automated telephone call that asks for this type of information, hang up. If you get an email that solicits your personal information, delete it immediately, and don’t click on any links embedded in the message.

It’s a good idea to practice the same kind of caution when shopping online, especially because online fraud is expected to increase toward the end of the year, according to NerdWallet’s statistics on credit card fraud. Use your intuition and sense of judgment. If a website just doesn’t look right, try a different one.

For additional support, invest in antivirus software, and be sure to run regular scans and make updates when they’re available.

Monitor your balances
If hackers manage to obtain your credit or debit card information, they can run up charges in your name. That makes it crucial to review your monthly statements, keeping an eye out for any fraudulent transactions that you don’t recall making. If that happens, notify your financial institution immediately. The faster you do that, the better your chances are of fixing the issue and minimizing your losses.

The takeaway
Fighting fraud is a team effort, and consumers can do their part by coming up with strong passwords and practicing good judgment when reading emails and surfing the Web.

Financial institutions like Hopewell Federal Credit Union often have additional resources on how to prevent cyber crimes. Take advantage of them — the more you know, the better equipped you’ll be to safeguard your personal information.

Tony Armstrong, NerdWallet

© Copyright 2016 NerdWallet, Inc. All Rights Reserved

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