Six Easy Things to Protect Your Money Online
Many people feel that it is a matter of time before at least one of their credit cards are stolen and used to make unauthorized purchases online. Others say it’s not a matter of how often does credit card theft happen to the average person. Lately, stats indicate that the average person can expect to see at least one erroneous charge each year. It seems that we cannot completely defeat hackers, but we can at least make it more difficult for the casual hacker to steal credit card data and banking information from us while we are in public.
- Don’t use Public WiFi – This is an obvious one and yet oh so hard to obey. Don’t use public WiFi, not even for seemingly innocent activities like messaging your friends. What’s wrong with free public WiFi? The retail locations offering this gratis free just do it to attract customers, right? Yes, while it is true that retail locations, hospitals, coffee shop, and airports do offer free WiFi to attract or appease customers, it is a huge security risk. Hackers can easily monitor, “sniff” WiFi internet traffic while it is in transit from your device to the buildings routers. With cheap hardware and software available at online stores, hackers can decipher your email address, social media accounts logins, and passwords. From there they can get into your email and maybe onto your banking information. It’s that easy. Don’t use public WiFi to log into anything!
- Use a VPN – If after reading the above you still need to post a photo of your cappuccino to Instagram then do so with a Virtual Private Network (VPN) app. A VPN app can be downloaded to your smartphone or laptop. A VPN encrypts the internet traffic from your device to the router. Turn on your VPN app before logging into any accounts. The app will encrypt your data. I use Tunnel Bear and it is very good. I’ve tested in at a few airports and hotels.
- Use an RFID blocking wallet when traveling – I keep my credit cards and my passport in an RFID blocking wallet when I travel. RFID is short for Radio-frequency identification. It is a technology that is used with chip credit cards, inventory tracking tags, and EZ-pass units. The devices emit a radio frequency and can be used for tracking. Hackers with RFID scanners can scan your credit cards if you are physically close enough to them. You need to be about one foot away from a hacker to be scanned. Which is easily done in a crowded train or corridor. An FYI, aluminum foil also works well but not a well as an RFID wallet. Foil reduces the scanning distance down to three inches. An RFID wallet blocks most frequencies completely.
- Use a Mobile Wallet – Use another layer of security when paying online. I use PayPal to pay online whenever possible. It adds one more layer of security between a website and my credit card information. Using PayPal or other mobile wallet prevents the need to give yet another website my credit card information. Besides PayPal there are other online and mobile app wallets available like Apple Pay which works in retail stores as well.
- Set up SMS Notifications – Set up text messaging for each of your credit cards. All of my credit cards text me whenever there is a charge to my account. I cannot set the SMS message to just text me whenever there is a charge so I have to set a minimum dollar amount for the notification to fire off. For each of my cards, that minimum amount is, you guessed it $1. So if credit card hackers want to get me for 99 cents, it will fly under the radar for a bit. It’s a helpful watchdog on one of all of my accounts.
- Keep Your Computer Updated– Keep your hardware and software up-to-date. Laptops, smartphones, firmware like WiFi router firmware, and software are continually updated by their manufacturers to make them perform better and keep them secure. Out of date software and hardware gives hackers an inroad to your WiFi or device. Most devices can be set to auto update.
A companion had a credit card lifted while we were walking around Las Vegas one late night. Although the card was used in Reno then in Baltimore, Maryland within two hours, the card was still present with us. An RFID blocking wallet could have prevented this theft. After having my card lifted from a train ticket machine in New York, I decided to keep my cards in an RFID wallet full time. Thieves and their crafty scanners are everywhere.
Michelle writes about cyber security as well as how to protect your data online. She has worked in internet technology for over 20 years Michelle earned a B.S. in Engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She published a guide to Cyber Security for Business Travelers