Financial Planning

online identity theft

7 Tips to Avoid Hidden Finance Pranks

April 21, 2016 : Laura Adams – Guest Contributor

These days you can fall prey to a scam artist just about anywhere—in person, over the phone, or online. Millions of people in the United States become the victims of fraud each year.

It’s important to stay up-to-date on how to protect yourself from common fraud and identity scams. Here are seven tips to avoid hidden finance pranks:

Tip #1: Update your computer software

Always keep your computer’s operating system current with updates. Many include bug fixes that address critical security issues and keep you safe from hackers.

Tip #2: Avoid shopping with unfamiliar online retailers

If you visit or shop on unfamiliar websites, you’re making it easy for criminals to steal your personal data.

Before entering financial information, look for a security lock symbol to the left of the web address that should begin with “https” instead of “http.” That means you’re on a secure page and the information you enter is safely encrypted against hackers.

Tip #3: Use strong computer passwords

Long, complex passwords are millions of times harder to crack than a shorter one. So, while using something like “fido123” is memorable, it’s going to leave you vulnerable.

Create unique passwords for each of your accounts that are at least eight characters and include lower and upper case letters, numbers, and special characters.

If you’re worried that you’ll never remember them, just use a handy password manager like RoboForm, Dashlane, or LastPass to simplify your online life.

Tip #4: File your tax return early

Tax fraud peaks during tax filing season, but can happen at any time. So be sure to file your return as early as possible each year, before an identity thief can file a bogus one in your name. Also, use a secure Internet connection if you file electronically.

If you receive a text or email that seems to be from the IRS, watch out. Remember that if the IRS needs your information, it will contact you by mail.

To learn more, check out the the annual “Dirty Dozen” list of tax scams published by the IRS.

Tip #5: Never wire money to a stranger

Fraudsters use elaborate money transfer schemes to get your money. You’ve probably received strange emails promising to pay you in exchange for wiring money from a U.S. account (one of the oldest tricks in the Internet scam book).

No matter what, never wire money to a stranger or someone claiming to be a relative in a crisis. Once you wire cash, it’s virtually impossible to trace the transaction or to get your money back.

Tip #6: Don’t share your personal information

Never reveal sensitive financial information over the phone, email, or by text, to any person or business you don’t know. Legitimate businesses rarely ask for this information.

Fraudsters may say your account has been compromised or that it must be updated right away. This is a common way crooks try to trick you into giving them your bank account number, credit card number, or Social Security number.

Tip #7: Never click on hyperlinks in emails

If you receive an email asking you to click a link or open an attachment to fill in your financial information, delete the email immediately. Even if it appears to be from your bank or the IRS, it’s likely a scam set up to resemble a legitimate organization.

Clicking a phony hyperlink could install malware on your device that monitors your online activity and steals your personal data without you knowing it. Submit information on a company’s secure website only after you type the web address directly into your browser and see signals that the site is secure.

Although none of us can prevent data breaches or theft, following these 7 tips will help you outsmart greedy criminals and avoid harmful financial pranks.

Laura Adams – Guest Contributor

Laura Adams – Guest Contributor

Money Girl

Laura Adams is a personal finance expert, author, and consumer advocate. She hosts the popular "Money Girl Podcast," which has been downloaded over 40 million times by legions of loyal fans.

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