Anyone reading the headlines knows that cyberattacks are on the rise; indeed, malware, viruses, phishing and spam are a menace. Often, hackers infiltrate targeted computer networks to corrupt crucial data files or steal personal, proprietary or financial information.
In fact, a recent Morgan Stanley poll of high net worth investors showed that data security was a leading concern, with some 72 percent saying that identity theft eclipsed other worries such as terrorism (65 percent) and illness (56 percent).
In 2016, six out of every 100 consumers were victims of identity theft. Online card transaction fraud increased by more than 40 percent last year and account takeover fraud increased more than 60 percent.
Here are some steps you can take to help shield you from dangerous cyber threats:
· Consider signing up for an identity theft protection service. These services provide advanced detection and notification, as well as ongoing regular monitoring across all your accounts. Many of them can also act as a single point of contact to flag and resolve unusual activity.
· Initiate a fraud alert with any of the three major credit bureaus. This initial security alert notifies potential credit grantors to verify your identification before extending credit in your name.
· Freeze or lock your credit file with any of the three major credit bureaus. A security freeze is designed to prevent credit, loans and other services that require a credit check from being approved in your name without your consent. No one can access or make changes to your credit report while it’s frozen. You may unfreeze your account temporarily when needed.
· Monitor your financial accounts. Review your transactions regularly, consider setting up alerts to identify potential fraudulent charges and cancel or freeze cards if you notice unauthorized activity.
· Use institutions that provide enhanced user/two-factor authentication and proactive account activity review. Ask your bank or financial institution about their investment in cybersecurity and fraud-prevention technology.
· File your taxes early. Waiting until the last minute to file taxes could give criminals the opportunity to make a fake filing. You should also respond to outreach from the IRS right away.
· Improve your online habits. Create complex, varied passwords and usernames. Use caution with unfamiliar websites, social media and emails. Encrypt your Wi-Fi services.
The most important action is to remain alert. In the event that you are affected by a data breach, follow up with the corporation that was breached by contacting their fraud or customer service department to find out what steps you can take, if any, to protect your information. Being informed and proactive can help mitigate the risks associated with online identity theft and any data breach.
Todd Hauer is a Financial Advisor with the Global Wealth Management Division of Morgan Stanley in Denver. The information contained in this interview is not a solicitation to purchase or sell investments. Any information presented is general in nature and not intended to provide individually tailored investment advice. The strategies and/or investments referenced may not be suitable for all investors as the appropriateness of a particular investment or strategy will depend on an investor's individual circumstances and objectives. Investing involves risks and there is always the potential of losing money when you invest. The views expressed herein are those of the author and may not necessarily reflect the views of Morgan Stanley Wealth Management, or its affiliates. Morgan Stanley Smith Barney, LLC, member SIPC.