Spring Cleaning Your Money
By: Eric Rosenberg
Do you worry that your online and financial accounts could be hacked? If you do, you're not alone. One poll found that 67 percent of Americans are worried about hackers stealing their personal information. Fortunately, you don't have to sit by and wait for problems before you take action.
While many people look at spring as a great time to clean up around the house, it's also a good opportunity to tidy your financial and digital accounts. Check out these tips to improve your online security and simplify your digital life.
Review Your Bank Accounts and Credit Cards
Over the years, it's easy to build up a list of unused bank and investment accounts. If you have old accounts at a bank you rarely use or an old employer 401(k), it could be a good time to consolidate those into accounts you use more often.
Keep in mind that every account is a new opportunity for fraud, so shuttering ones you don't use is a smart way to stay that much safer. Beware, however, that closing credit cards can affect your credit.
Go From Paper to Digital Statements
Mail theft is a common source of identity theft. Though digital statements used to feel less secure, today, they are much safer than paper. Furthermore, many banks have added fees for paper statements while digital statements are free.
You can view years of statements online with just a few clicks. As an added bonus, digital statements are less wasteful and better for the environment.
Upgrade Your Antivirus and Firewall
A quality antivirus and firewall program on your computer is essential. Reputable antivirus apps help prevent hackers from stealing your data or holding it hostage in exchange for money. Though some computers have antivirus software built in, savvy users often add a paid antivirus program for additional protection.
Backup Everything Important
Your family photos and financial records are important and may not be replaceable. It'd be a shame to lose a treasure trove of memories, but you don't have to worry about that when you have good backups.
Consider both an external hard drive and a cloud backup for two layers of protection. External hard drives are not fireproof or theft-proof, so they may not be enough on their own; adding a secure cloud backup as a second layer of armor protects you from problems with your computer and ransomware, a type of malware that can hold your data hostage or delete it for good.
Make Your Passwords so Good You Can't Guess Them
If you use the same password on multiple websites, you are taking a huge risk. If one of them falls victim to a data breach, for instance, the hacker may try it on your bank account or other important accounts. It's important to use strong, unique passwords across accounts and consider changing your passwords regularly to stay safe.
Consider password managers, which are apps that securely store your passwords for every website you use. Through mobile apps and browser plugins, you can fill your usernames and passwords with one or two clicks. With a password manager, you only have to remember one password. Every site and app has its own, unique, unguessable password that even you don't know.
You Play the Biggest Role in Keeping Your Money and Digital Assets Safe
One of the most common ways cybercriminals access your computer is a bad link in an email. Staying up to date on the latest scams and knowing what to look for can help you avoid phishing and viruses. The Federal Trade Commission and AARP are both excellent resources for avoiding scams and fraud.
When you stay informed and follow basic precautions, you're taking smart steps to protect your money this spring and beyond.
Eric Rosenberg is a freelance writer specializing in finance and investing. His writing work has appeared in Business Insider, Investopedia, Huffington Post, and many other outlets. Rosenberg also consults about financial management and small business solutions.