Friday, December 10, 2021 / by Mario Daniel Sconza
Financial Friday #92: Keeping the Cyber-Grinch at Bay!
The holiday shopping season is in full-swing and the Grinch may be out to steal a lot more than your gifts and decorations – he may be after your credit card or banking data, online passwords, or even your entire identity. A lot of us use our cards a lot more, shop more online, and bank more online in the leadup to the holidays. It's a good time to run through a quick checklist of what you can do to stop fraudsters from stealing your Christmas.
All online financial accounts should have a unique, random password that includes a mix of characters, symbols, etc… you know the drill, but have you let it slip for 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). The federal government has a great quick facts webpage that covers all of the above in more detail.
Set up live notifications 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 type 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 transaction limit for online shopping.
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 phishing attacks were easily identifiable with bad grammar, spelling mistakes or dubious looking websites. Today’s phishing texts and emails can look very authentic and come from what looks to be a legitimate sender. They often direct you to fake websites which are also hard to spot. If you have doubts but the message seems important, call your bank or card provider directly and confirm.
Take basic online security precautions. Most of us use the same computer to bank with that we use to surf the internet everyday and depending on where you surf, your risk may be significantly higher. That illegal streaming site you watch hockey or TV shows is most likely loaded with potential security threats – spyware, malware, ransomware, 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.
Check your credit score regularly or get a credit monitoring service. Most victims of identity theft don’t realize a thing until it’s too late. Checking your own credit score is a “soft hit” and it does not lower your score. 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. Most charge a monthly fee of $10 to $20.
Attempted fraud is very prevalent these days and while some attempts are laughable (the CRA does not demand Google gift cards as payment for back taxes!), many others are increasingly sophisticated and can catch out even the wariest of us.
Security measures on cards and online banking 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 or just not sure what to do, time to take a few minutes and do some research or give yourself a little security audit. This Government of Canada website is a great resource: Protection from frauds and scams\
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