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Keeping your financial information safe

Just a few short decades ago, people rarely thought about fraud or identity theft. But in today's world of online shopping and social media, we all need to stay on our toes to protect our financial information. Learn 10 ways to help you protect yourself — both online and off.

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Keeping your financial information safe

Two tickets to Paris. A week at a very fancy hotel, oh and a dinner and fine wine to match. Ooh la-la, what a vacation!

The only problem, you've never been anywhere near France. But a credit card with your name on it has been. It looks like you might be one of the millions of Americans who’ve experienced fraud or identity theft. But even if it's never happened to you, it's always good to know how to protect yourself.
Just a few decades ago, credit card fraud and identity theft were things that people rarely thought about. But today, there’s a greater risk we could end up as victims. What’s more, Identity theft costs businesses and consumers billions of dollars each year. And that doesn't even include credit card fraud.

Before we get into protecting yourself, let's talk about what differentiates fraud from outright identity theft. An example of fraud is when someone uses your credit card to make purchases and while the charges for a new laptop that you've never bought are nothing to sneeze at, they pale in comparison to what a stolen identity can do to your life.

Identity theft is a little more complex. It's someone pretending to be you, who has somehow gotten hold of your personal data like your social security number, birthday, or passwords and has the intention of passing himself off as you. A thief will use your name and other information to commit fraud by opening up credit cards and loans in your name. They may even commit other crimes and use your name when they get caught. It's not hard to see why having your identity stolen can be a disaster for your finances, your credit and even your good name.

So what can you do? A lot more than you think. While there is no way to keep your information completely safe, there are many things you can do to protect yourself from both the hi-tech thieves, and the guys picking through your trash. Here are ten tips to consider adding to your own strategies.

One. Check your credit report. The three major credit bureaus, Experian, Transunion and Equifax will give you a free credit report once a year if you request it. Take advantage of this to watch for accounts you've never opened, and check activity on accounts you haven't used in a while. And the accounts you do use, watch your credit card account activity closely and check your bank statements often. Because the earlier you spot suspicious activity, the easier it will be to clean up.

Two, be unique. Take the time to create different passwords for all of your accounts. The idea is to create a system that's easy for you to remember, but impossible for others to guess. Here is one way to do it. Start by choosing a word you associate with the site you're on. So if it is where you buy books, take the main character from a novel you love and pair it with your favorite color and the model or year of your first car. You can even make it harder for someone to crack by adding capital letters, symbols, using words that aren't in the dictionary or making it a sentence. Oh, one more thing. When it comes to usernames, make sure they are not obvious like your name or email address and avoid using your social security number whenever you can.

Three, mind your mailbox. Believe it or not, your mailbox can be a big threat to your financial security. Don't give thieves the opportunity to steal pre-approved credit card applications or those blank checks that come with credit card statements. And if you typically put outgoing mail in your mailbox, stop. A trip to the post office can prevent someone from stealing checks you've written to your creditors. Oh, speaking of the post office, it's a common tactic for thieves to re-route and steal mail by filling out change of address forms. So if you notice your mail service being interrupted, contact the post office right away.

Four, shred your trash. They're out there, dumpster diving and trash picking. They're even raiding your garbage can and recycling bin looking for social security numbers and account information. So buy a shredder and make it more challenging for them to get the goods on you.

Five, get smarter about being social. Okay, I know that times have changed and social media has made it easy to get in touch with everyone. But putting every little detail about your life out there for the world to see gives the bad guys an advantage. You need to make it harder for thieves to answer personal questions about you. Stuff like your mom's maiden name, where you went to grammar school or even your pet's name can help them figure out or reset your passwords. Even your birth date is something you should keep to yourself because it's a key piece of information someone needs to steal your identity. And those geo-tagged photos, well they can make it awfully easy to find out where you live. So keep your personal information, personal.

Six. Be wary of strangers. Be suspicious of people who contact you looking for information. If someone calls or emails you from a bank, credit card company, collection agency, government agency or just anywhere, don't give them your personal information. Tell them you'll call their 1-800 number and hang up. Never, ever give out bank account numbers, your birth date or social security number to anyone who reaches out to you. And that email from a long lost relative about your big inheritance or a notice about lottery money you've won - yeah, it's probably a phishing scam looking for your information.

Seven, look for the lock. If you're shopping online, be sure the address begins with https. The "S" tells you the site is secure and don't forget to look for the little lock icon in the browser before you enter any payment information.

Eight. Build your fortress. Well, build a digital fortress around your devices anyway. It's important to maintain antivirus and antimalware software on your computer, tablet and Smartphone and when updates are pushed out, install them as quickly as you can. Oh, you should also avoid keeping all your financial info on your computer and decline when a browser asks to remember your password on a financial site.

Nine. Secure yourself. Whether using your home Wi-Fi or a computer at the library, you need to take steps to secure your info. Start by password protecting your home's network. And when you login on the go, especially to any of your financial accounts, don't do it on an open network. No, no! Like the free one at your favorite coffee shop. And, if you're using a shared computer, be sure to clear all your personal information when you log out.

And ten, enlist help. Sign up for alerts from your bank or credit card company to notify you when there is suspicious activity on your account.

Well there you have it. Add these steps together and you've got a great jump on safeguarding your financial information. While there is no sure fire way to keep it 100% safe, these basic tips can make you a tougher target for the bad guys. So the next time you see charges from a European adventure, well, you should have some fabulous memories to go along with them.

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The material provided on this Website is for informational use only and is not intended for financial or investment advice. Bank of America and/or its partners assume no liability for any loss or damage resulting from one's reliance on the material provided. Please also note that such material is not updated regularly and that some of the information may not therefore be current. Consult with your own financial professional when making decisions regarding your financial or investment management.

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