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Financial Friday #139: How to Grinch-proof Your Financial House!
The Grinch is After More than your Gifts & Decorations!
The holiday shopping season is in full-swing and most of us are using our credit cards a lot more, shopping more online, and banking more online. Unfortunately, the "Scam Grinch" is also out in full force and always looking to take advantage of the season to steal your credit card or banking info, online passwords, or even your entire identity! It's the perfect time to run through a quick list of what you can do to stop fraudsters from ruining your holidays.
All online financial accounts should have a unique, random password that includes a mix of characters, symbols, etc. We all know the drill, but have you let it slip for the sake of convenience? You email password needs to be especially strong as it is often the gateway to your other accounts and the recipient of your 2-factor authentication mail. If you are overwhelmed with passwords, try using passphrases or check out a password manager (there are many available free online).
Another overlooked precaution is to take advantage of the live notifications available for your bank accounts and credit cards. Financial institutions offer a number of security and fraud alert features that let you know immediately by text or email when certain types of transactions go through your accounts. You might also consider lowering the individual and/or daily transaction limits on your credit cards or get a designated card with a lower limit for online shopping.
Although it won't give you immediate notice, you should also make it a habit to regularly check your credit score. Most victims of identity theft don’t realize a thing until it’s way too late. Checking your own credit score is a “soft hit” and it does not affect your score in any way. There are also a number of credit monitoring services available that let you check your credit history at anytime and alert you to key changes like new accounts or late payments.
Beware of phishing attacks – fraudulent texts, emails and websites aimed at duping you into divulging your password or other security information. Gone are the days when these attacks were easily identifiable by bad grammar, spelling mistakes and dubious looking websites. Today’s phishing texts and emails can look very authentic and come from what appears to be a legitimate sender. They often direct you to fake websites which can look very convincing. If you have doubts but the message seems important, call your bank or card provider directly and confirm.
Last but not least, don't ignore the standard online security precautions. Most of us use the same device for banking that we use every day to surf the internet, and depending on where you surf, your risk may be significantly higher. That illegal streaming site you use to watch the hockey games is most likely loaded with potential security threats — spyware, malware, ransomware and keyloggers are all possible. Be careful what you download, keep your security up to date, run security scans, and consider a factory reset if you think your computer may have been compromised in the past.
Attempted fraud is very prevalent these days and while some scams are quite laughable (the CRA does not call you and demand payment in Walmart or Google gift cards for back taxes!), many others are increasingly sophisticated and can catch out even the wariest of us.
Security measures can be a hassle and add an extra step and a little more time, but that few seconds could prevent a huge holiday headache. If you’ve been a little complacent lately or not sure what to do, give yourself a little security audit and take a few minutes to do some research. This Government of Canada website is a great resource: Protection from frauds and scams