Technology

5 Keys to Keeping Your Data Secure

Protect yourself from would-be identity thieves.

Chances are, you may have been swindled at some point in your life, or you know someone who has. Nearly half of consumers surveyed recently by Stanford University's Center on Longevity and the Finra Investor Education Foundation reported being a victim of financial fraud in the previous year—a far higher tally than earlier surveys indicated. No socioeconomic or demographic group is immune. "Men and women, college students and retirees, rich and poor—all are potential targets," the report's authors found. Nearly 40% of victims never told anyone about the fraud.

Estimates are problematic, but Americans are thought to lose some $50 billion a year to financial scams. And there are indirect costs: bounced checks, late fees, trouble meeting monthly expenses and even bankruptcy. So it's not surprising that the emotional cost of fraud is also high, with 50% of victims reporting severe stress and more than one-third citing depression. The toll is compounded for senior victims, who have little time to make up for lost resources. "When elderly people lose their life savings, they lose hope," says Ricky Locklar, an investment fraud investigator at the Alabama Securities Commission. "To me, those crimes are worse than someone robbing the corner drugstore at gunpoint."

Here's how to keep your data secure:

1. Play it safe at the ATM. Cover the keyboard with your hand when you enter your PIN—a camera may be recording your keystrokes, which thieves can later match with your payment-card data.

2. Check bank and credit card accounts. At least once a week, look for suspicious charges. Sign up to receive alerts when your bank account balance falls below a threshold you specify, say, or when a charge higher than a certain amount goes through on your card.

3. Head off ID thieves. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to get free yearly reports from each of the three major credit bureaus. Check for accounts you don't recognize and other red flags. Or enroll in a service that monitors your credit reports. If you're worried about a breach, consider placing a freeze on your reports with each bureau. New creditors will be unable to view them, minimizing the chances that thieves will be able to open new credit accounts in your name (see The Equifax Data Breach: What You Should Do).

4. Watch for tax and medical ID theft. Fight tax ID theft by filing your tax return as early as possible. Doing so may block any thieves who want to use your Social Security number to file a return in your name and collect a refund. Signs of medical ID theft include treatments or services you never used appearing on bills or explanations of benefits.

5. Don't fall for phishing expeditions. Be on guard for phone calls or e-mails from fraudsters posing as representatives from your bank, the IRS or other entities. If you're unsure of an e-mail or text message, don't click on links within it, which could install malware on your device or lead to a scam website.

Most Popular

Senate Passes $3,000 Child Tax Credit for 2021
Coronavirus and Your Money

Senate Passes $3,000 Child Tax Credit for 2021

The provision would temporarily increase the child tax credit to $3,000 or $3,600 per child for most families and have 50% of it paid in advance by th…
March 6, 2021
Senate Passes Bill with More "Targeted" Stimulus Payments
Coronavirus and Your Money

Senate Passes Bill with More "Targeted" Stimulus Payments

The Senate finally passes the $1.9 trillion COVID-relief bill. But fewer people will get a third stimulus check under the Senate version than under th…
March 6, 2021
Your Guide to Roth Conversions
Special Report
Tax Breaks

Your Guide to Roth Conversions

A Kiplinger Special Report
February 25, 2021

Recommended

Claim These "Above-the-Line" Deductions on Your Tax Return (Even If You Don't Itemize)
Tax Breaks

Claim These "Above-the-Line" Deductions on Your Tax Return (Even If You Don't Itemize)

If, like most people, you claim the standard deduction instead of itemized deductions on your return, there are still many other tax deductions availa…
March 5, 2021
Flying This Summer? What to Expect
Travel

Flying This Summer? What to Expect

Depending on your destination, you may need to show a negative COVID test or even prove you’ve been vaccinated.
February 23, 2021
Biden Steers PPP Loans to Smallest Businesses
Coronavirus and Your Money

Biden Steers PPP Loans to Smallest Businesses

For two weeks, mom-and-pop businesses will move to the front of the line for Paycheck Protection Program loans.
February 22, 2021
President Biden's Tax Plans for the Next Few Years
Politics

President Biden's Tax Plans for the Next Few Years

With control of both the House and Senate in Democratic hands, President Biden will be able to get more of his tax policy proposals through Congress. …
February 3, 2021