With Americans losing billions of dollars to fraud each year, it's important that you learn proven ways of protecting your finances. Here, our pros provide six tips to prevent fraud and protect both yourself and your accounts this year.
Fortify passwords with this number.
If your password is eight characters or less, hackers can crack it in less than an hour. The good news: If you go up to 18 characters, it would take over 400 trillion years for would-be bad guys to guess it! Luckily, there’s no need to memorize marathon passwords, assures financial security expert Carter Seuthe of MyCreditSummit.com. “Just come up with a phrase close to your heart — it could be anything from a meaningful song lyric to a favorite movie to a book quote. Then either replace a few of the letters with corresponding numbers — say, a zero in place of an ‘o’ — or add a few digits to the end, and your password will come up as ‘strong’ every time!” To keep all your passwords securely organized in one place, consider free apps like Keeper, LastPass, or 1Password.
Secure your cash with a code word.
An easy-to-confuse-us scam? Spoofing: When hackers call, and the number that pops up on your phone looks like it’s either from your bank or a family member. “Your bank will never ask for your username and password, so if this caller does, it’s a red flag,” says Derek Sall, founder of LifeAndMyFinances.com. “Tell them you’re going to hang up and call them directly.” As for calls from, or on behalf of, a supposed loved one reaching out because they’re in trouble and need money: “Establish a family code word. If someone calls asking for help, have them confirm the word, and if they don’t know it, hang up.”
Protect your identity with a credit freeze.
One of the best ways to protect your identity and your money is by freezing your credit. “This means creditors can’t run a check on you and won’t open an account if they can’t access your file,” says Colin Palfrey, CMO of Crediful. “This way, anyone trying to get a credit line in your name will be foiled.” Best of all: It’s free, won’t impact your credit score and just takes a phone call to the three credit bureaus. Then if you need to allow access to your reports — say you’re applying for a loan — all you need to do is call to lift the freeze. You can even make it a “temporary” lift so everything will refreeze after a few days.
Low-tech ways to safeguard your money
Block credit card theft with a foil ‘shield’
Scammers use skimmers, devices that digitally scan the magnetic strip on your credit card — while it sits in your wallet or purse — to steal the number. Good news: Wrapping your card in foil blocks the device’s signal.
Prevent debit card dupes by giving ATMs a ‘tug’
Thieves have been known to attach card-reading devices to ATMs to steal numbers, and they’re not always easy to spot. Before you put your card into an ATM, give the slot a firm tug — if it seems loose, alert the bank or storeowner, and use a different ATM.
Halt check tampering with scam-proof ink
It’s rare, but scammers can bleach the ink off of a check and write in something else. The easy way to prevent this? Fill out checks with scam-proof gel pens — this type of ink can’t be bleached. One option: Paper Mate Retractable Gel Pens.
A version of this article originally appeared in our print magazine, First For Women.