PERSONAL FINANCES: Protect your finances online | Deal

During periods of crisis, cybercriminals often ramp up their attacks, taking advantage of the chaos to extract information from unsuspecting victims. Here are some steps you can take during these turbulent times to protect your identity and finances online:

Create strong passwords. A password is considered strong when it consists of 10 or more characters, a combination of upper and lower case letters with at least one number and one symbol. Cyber ​​security experts recommend changing your passwords every three months, as long as your replacement passwords are strong enough. Consider using a password manager, which makes it easy to generate and recover strong passwords.

Update your antivirus software. Hackers are constantly looking for ways to access personal computer systems. The best antivirus software vendors stay one step ahead of scammers, but you should enable updates for maximum benefit. Keep your antivirus program up to date to reduce your vulnerability to these attacks.

Use only secure WiFi. Avoid logging into financial accounts when you’re away from a reliable Wi-Fi connection. Public WiFi may not be secure, which means that any personal or financial information you enter during a public WiFi connection can easily be compromised. At home, double check that your router is properly encrypted to prevent unauthorized access.

Monitor your accounts. Keep a close eye on your checking, savings, and investment account activity. If you notice anything unusual, contact your bank or credit card issuer. Let your financial institution notify you of suspicious activity by activating alerts.

Activate two-step authentication. Many financial institutions offer the option of two-factor authentication to discourage fraud. When you opt in for this extra layer of security, you’ll need to take an extra step to verify that it’s you when you access accounts. It may take another minute of your time, but it’s worth the security of knowing that you’re making it that much harder for hackers to breach your accounts.

Stop before you click. Beware of fake emails and online advertisements seeking to access your passwords and other sensitive information. Many spammers use fake return addresses that are easy to spot, but others have adopted more sophisticated schemes to get you to participate.

Holley Smaldone-Cragg, CMFC, is a Financial Advisor for Ameriprise Financial in Geneva. She specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for over 35 years. Her website is

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