PERSONAL FINANCE: Protect your finances online | Business

During periods of crisis, cyber criminals often increase their attacks, taking advantage of chaos to pry information from unsuspecting victims. Here are some steps you can take during these turbulent times to protect your identity and finances online:

Create strong passwords. A password is considered strong when it consists of 10 or more characters, a combination of upper and lower letters with at least one number and one symbol. Cyber security experts recommend changing your passwords as often as every three months, as long as your replacement passwords are sufficiently strong. Consider using a password manager, which makes it easier to generate and recall strong passwords.

Update your antivirus software. Hackers are constantly looking for ways into personal computer systems. The best antivirus software providers stay one step ahead of the scammers, but you need to enable updates for maximum benefit. Keep your antivirus program current to reduce your vulnerability to these attacks.

Use only secure WiFi. Avoid logging in to financial accounts when you’re away from a trusted WiFi connection. Public WiFi may not be secure, which means any personal or financial information you enter during a public WiFi connection may be easily compromised. At home, double check that your router is properly encrypted to prevent unauthorized access.

Monitor your accounts. Keep a close eye on your checking, saving and investment account activity. If you notice anything strange, contact your bank or credit card issuer. Give your financial institution permission to notify you of suspicious activity by activating alerts.

Turn on two-step authentication. Many financial institutions offer the option of two-step authentication to discourage fraud. When you opt into this added layer of security, you will have to go through an extra step to verify it’s you when accessing accounts. It may take another minute of your time, but it’s worth the security of knowing you’re making it much harder for hackers to breach your accounts.

Stop before you click. Be wary of spoof emails and online ads that seek access to your passwords and other sensitive information. Many spammers use fake return addresses that are easy to spot, but others have adopted more sophisticated schemes to get you to engage.

Holley Smaldone-Cragg, CMFC, is a Financial Advisor with Ameriprise Financial in Geneva. She specializes in fee-based financial planning and asset management strategies and has been in practice for over 35 years. Her website is

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