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Improve Your Account Security with These Simple Steps

12.12.19
By: Holly Benedetto

You have a right to privacy and having your secure information protected from prying eyes. The National Credit Union Administration (NCUA), the government agency that regulates credit unions, has various acts and privacy policies in place to hold these financial institutions accountable for keeping this information safe.

But why is privacy so important? You may think that you have nothing to hide or that your life is not interesting enough to be kept a secret. However, a carefree mentality can lead to identity theft, stolen banking information, unauthorized account access, and more.

 

Common Types of Privacy Violation and Information Theft 

Unfortunately, there is a lot of sensitive data that can be stolen from you, so there isn’t just one form of identity theft. Criminals can steal your financial identity, medical identity, driver’s license, Social Security number, and more — even if you’re legally a minor. In fact, identity theft or identity fraud affects 25% of children before the age of 18.

Identity theft isn't the only thing that can be done with your information. Access to your accounts can wreak havoc on your personal life, from bots spamming malware links using your social media to someone cleaning out all the funds in your checking account. Poor account security, like repeating the same email and password combination across many platforms, can grant someone access to nearly every part of your life. 

Still, our data is even more than the individual accounts to which we log in. Every move we make online is tracked by cookies, location services, and the permissions you grant individual apps (such as access to contacts, messages, social media, or other personal information.) While most sites that ask for this information do so with no malicious intent, you should always use discretion when allowing a new application to read and write changes using your data.

 

Basic Steps to Improving Privacy

There are a multitude of ways to improve the privacy and security of your daily life that don't require major lifestyle changes. 

 

  • Consider upgrading from a password to a passphrase. Longer, more complex passwords and phrases are more difficult to crack. Try to incorporate numbers, symbols, or even spaces when allowed.
  • Activate multi-factor authentication on your accounts. For most sites, enabling multi-factor authentication changes your login process to include a one-time code sent as a text, call, or email. Other methods of multi-factor authentication include image identification, typing a PIN number, answering a security question, or using a physical token.
  • Beware email attachments and links. If you receive an email from an unknown sender, think twice about opening attachments or clicking links. Commonly impersonated accounts include PayPal, Apple ID, and Gmail, which will try to get you to enter your login credentials via a fake version of the site. If you receive an email asking you to log in and check something, navigate to the website using your browser and type in the URL instead.
  • Protect your mail. A paper shredder for home use can cost as little as $30 but can save you much more by thwarting potential mail theft. Take extra care to shred sensitive mail like pre-approved offer letters and consider opting out entirely to eliminate the risk. For extra mail security, consider replacing your mail slot with a locked mailbox.
  • Don't use public Wi-Fi. If you must use an unsecured or public network, take extra care to avoid logging into financial services, healthcare accounts, or inputting payment information. There are many ways that your data can be intercepted on its way to its destination, including man-in-the-middle attacks, spoofing, or even fake hotspots. Stick with secure HTTPS sites and always log out of accounts when you're finished using them.

 

Advanced Steps to Improving Privacy

If you've already been practicing the steps above, great work! There are always more ways to protect yourself online, so consider giving these advanced tips a try.

 

  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN). When you use a VPN, an encrypted data tunnel is created that links you to a remote server, sometimes thousands of miles away. Your data is protected while within this tunnel, and when it exits on the server side, it takes on the IP address of that server. Your identity, browsing habits, devices, and location are all hidden. 
  • Delete social media accounts or make them anonymous. While social media does a lot to connect us, it can often lead to oversharing or loss of control over what happens to the data we upload. Posts asking for your mother's maiden name and childhood pet's name aren't a fun trip down memory lane — they're an attempt to gather answers to security questions! Read website privacy policies and terms of use carefully, as many of them claim ownership over any data you generate and oftentimes choose to sell that data. If you simply can't live without social media, consider using separate emails or usernames that don't include identifying information.
  • Put a security freeze on your credit. If you aren't planning to apply for a loan any time soon, freezing your credit is a simple way of preventing yourself or others from opening new accounts in your name. While select entities can still request your credit information, such as pre-existing accounts or prospective employers, potential identity thieves may be stopped in their tracks.

 

What to Do if Your Information is Compromised

Even the most careful users can still have their privacy breached. If you fear one of your accounts has been compromised, log in and change your password right away, as well as the password to the email associated with the account. Review any recent account activity to report or undo any unauthorized changes and notify the proper authorities.

If your credit cards, debit cards, or banking accounts show suspicious activity, contact your financial institution immediately.  Many institutions offer Card Controls to help you monitor when your card can be used, sets spending limits, and allow you to immediately freeze a card if you suspect that it has been compromised.  Plus, text alerts can immediately alert you to suspicious or out-of-character activity.

Think your identity has been stolen? Don't wait. Follow the FTC's guidelines on what to do next.

 

Committed to Your Privacy and Security

American Heritage Credit Union prioritizes our members' account safety in every single interaction. We utilize multi-factor authentication for every Online Teller account and require identification for phone or in-branch transactions. For added reassurance, set up Card Controls to add an extra layer of protections and notifications to your spending tools. If you have questions about your account security or think your information has been stolen, please contact us right away.