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Companies Get Hacked. Innocent People Get Hurt. How Can You Protect Your Accounts?

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When there's a cyber attack, it makes the news—but most of the time it doesn't do anything to makes us as aware, worried or alert as we should be. That's what bothers many cyber security experts.

In their opinion, most of us are not taking aggressive-enough steps and action to protect our credit and bank accounts. Their warning is worth listening to. Here's why:

  • At JPMorgan Chase, a major financial institution, hackers got their hands on the personal information of approximately 76 million households.
  • Hackers attacked Home Depot, the do-it-yourself superstore, and about 56 million credit card and debit card numbers were hacked at the point of sale...right where customers check out.
  • In 2013, debit and credit card losses totaled $11 billion, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.
  • Almost 5% of all consumers were affected by electronic fraud.

Maybe that doesn't sound like a big number. Maybe you feel safe because you've escaped the hackers so far. But consider this: If there are 100 people you know, five of them are susceptible to a security breach that affects their money or credit.

None of us should believe that our financial information is safe anymore.

What should you do?

The reality of cyber attacks should make you more concerned. The fact is, security experts will come right out and tell you that everyone is at risk of having their data compromised. And here's the kind of advice they'd give you...and the steps they take to protect their own accounts:

  1. Keep a close eye on all of your accounts. Not every attack comes with a big announcement. You may have an account that's been hacked and not know it, if you aren't checking your account transactions now and then. Security experts recommend that you take the time every few weeks to review your accounts and check each transaction. If something looks unfamiliar, explore it.
  2. Look into your bank's services, such as anti-fraud alerts. Many banks let you monitor your accounts (in what they call "real time") through transaction-triggered alerts. For instance, you can arrange it so you'll automatically get an alert anytime a wire transfer is requested, a new account is opened, or a new bill-pay account is set up for your account. Yes, it might seem odd to get an alert if you did just open an account—but what if some hacker were trying to open an account using stolen information! You could stop the transaction before it happened.
  3. Explore "two-factor authentication." Some banks are offering this helpful security feature, which adds a layer of protection on sensitive financial transactions. Let's say you went online to make a large money transfer on your account. Using two-factor authentication, the bank would send you a special code—through a text or email—that you would have to respond to in order to complete the transaction. Why the extra step? Because even if a hacker had your username and password, they would not be able to receive that code they needed to complete their fraudulent transaction.
  4. Be smart about passwords. WhatIsMyIPAddress.com has a few articles about passwords. At the very least you should a) not use the same password for different financial accounts, and b) make your passwords more complex than easy (and never use "password" as your password!) Try this: Create your unique password using numbers, uppercase letters, lowercase letters and (if allowed) a special character, such as "@" or "%."
  5. Take advantage of free credit monitoring. After Home Depot was embarrassed by the hacking story in the papers, they offered free credit monitoring to all of their credit cardholders. It might be worthwhile to see if your credit card providers offer free credit reports...and if they do, take advantage of that!

Time to act.

Maybe you've seen a few articles like this in the past—but what did you do after you read one? Did change your passwords Go online and check your bank accounts? Request a new PIN on your debit card? No? You should think about doing all of those.

After all, hackers are going to continue attacking financial institutions and retail stores in pursuit of account numbers, passwords, Social Security numbers...and there's not much you can do about that. But that doesn't mean you have to wait for it to happen.

By taking a few proactive steps, you can increase your awareness and take steps that will make it harder for hackers to do their dirty work.

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