SAFEGUARDING YOUR FINANCIAL INFORMATION

Identity theft involves the method of stealing a person’s personal or financial information by another person with the intention of making unauthorized transactions. This can be committed through fraudulently obtaining financial information such as their bank account number, debit and credit card PINs and/or bank verification number (BVN or Social Security Number, as known in other countries). They obtain these through fraudulent emails or text messages, hacking into computer records, obtaining information from browsing sites and so on. Nigeria Communications Week investigations revealed that using what is known as phishing, the criminals would send fraudulent SMS and email to victims directing them fake Web sites where they are asked to input sensitive data. In the emails, the criminals had attachments that, when clicked, secretly install “spyware” that can capture personal information and send it to third parties over the Internet. With the information supplied by victims, the criminals successfully break into the victims’ bank accounts leaving tales of woes and losses. In other cases, they disguise themselves as bank representatives, and use the palliatives from the government as bait to collect customers BVNs and other key banking details. Nigerian banks have implored customers to be vigilant (The Guardian, 2020).

Having your financial information stolen can lead to a lot of problems. As a business, allowing your customers’ information to fall into the wrong hands is dangerous to your business. This includes diverse financial problems which could be severe such as debt, bad credit ratings and a tarnished financial image. This article aims to outline ways that we can keep our financial information safe.

  • Safeguard your financial documents: For physical copies of financial information, it is important to not just keep them lying around or dispose of them carelessly to avoid them falling into the wrong hands and being read by them. You can dispose of them carefully by shredding them. Also, avoid oversharing your financial information online. It is also important that they are kept together in a safe place so you can keep track of all your data. For instance, the use of safe boxes in banks.

Furthermore, it is important to protect your phone. There are a lot of sensitive information that can be accessed if our phones are stolen or missing. Phones can be protected using passwords, pin, or biometrics. Also, some browsers save information for auto fill purposes, it is important to disable this for sites that have your financial information stored. Furthermore, if you are selling, replacing, or swapping your device, remember to wipe off all your information.

Businesses should ensure that they safeguard customer information properly by ensuring that they are not accessed by hackers or susceptible to viruses. They should also ensure that each customer puts in place safety measures to protect their own financial information by using strong passwords and two factor authenticators.

  • Passwords: A lot of identity theft occurs online. Most websites ask to use strong passwords by including numbers, capital letters and special characters. Ensure the passwords cannot be easily guessed such as  your first name or last name. Avoid using the same passwords for all websites. This prevents hackers from getting access to multiple sites at the same time.
  • Be cautious of email scams, suspicious text messages and phone calls: These thieves can call in or send phishing emails impersonating a bank official and ask for PINs or other financial information. They could also forward links to be clicked on that would allow information to be leaked.  Furthermore, you could receive tokens or PINs from your financial institution and then receive a call from these thieves asking you to call out the token. If you notice any of such suspicious activity, please contact your financial institution and proper authorities.
  • Be cautious of malicious sites: It is important to be very weary and cautious of malicious sites requesting for debit card or credit card information. Hackers could clone well-known websites and ask visitors to provide their financial information. Please check the spelling of URLs before assessing the websites e.g. ‘http:’ instead of ‘https:’. The lock icon in your web browser when surfing a website means that you website is safe, and you can transmit information. Also, it is important to read the privacy policy of websites. Some websites policy might include sale of financial information to third party. Furthermore, pay attention to sites that have a history of hacking and virus attacks.
  • Avoid making financial transactions on Wi-Fi networks in crowded places and restaurants especially open Wi-Fi networks with no password.
  • Set up two step verification: This is a method of adding a second layer of protection to your account asides your password. It is also very useful in case someone tries to access your account. Two-step verification includes sending codes to your phone number or email address and requiring you to input those codes before accessing your information. There are also apps such as Duo Mobile linked to the specific websites that provides the codes to be inputted before accessing such websites. With this, you are aware that someone is trying to log into your account and access your information, but they would not be able to do that without the extra layer of protection.
  • Regularly log out of sites after use: It is important to remember to log out of sites especially when assessing your information using an external computer. Also, businesses should also incorporate the habit of logging out users automatically if idle for a short amount of time.
  • Using prepaid cards or virtual credit cards: To avoid storing your main financial information directly on a site especially when trying to make a purchase online, there are prepaid cards that are sold where you can preload the amount you need and perform your transaction. This way, you avoid using your debit or credit card information directly. For virtual credit cards, there is a layer of protection as money is not preloaded so you can cancel the card after use.
  • Businesses should ensure that they have an efficient network and email protection system that fishes out spam emails, phishing, or any suspicious messages. Businesses should install protection software, anti-virus, encryption, and firewall to identify and block any suspicious activity that seeks to gain access into their system.
  • Businesses should train their employees and their customers to be suspicious of fraudulent emails and messages. They should educate them on how to identify spam emails and to avoid clicking on links or attachments. They should also endeavor to report any suspicious activity to the relevant authorities.
  • Within the business, it is important to outline and restrict access of employees to customers information. Not all employees should have access to all the information of customers.
  • Businesses can employ the services of cyber security firms or information technology audits to perform due diligence audits on the business data by identifying and suggesting areas of improvement.

REFERENCES

Kagan, J. (2020, October 30). Identity Theft. Investopedia. https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/identitytheft.asp#:%7E:text=Identity%20theft%20is%20the%20crime,making%20unauthorized%20transactions%20or%20purchases

Guardian Nigeria. (2020, August 13). Identify thieves inflict tears, losses on Nigerians. The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News. https://guardian.ng/technology/identify-thieves-inflict-tears-losses-on-nigerians/

Comai-Legrand, L. (2017, December 26). Six Tips to Protecting Your Identity. First Alliance Credit Union. https://www.firstalliancecu.com/blog/six-tips-to-protecting-your-identity

Rossi, B. (2019, December 3). 10 ways businesses can protect customer data. Information Age. https://www.information-age.com/10-ways-businesses-can-protect-customer-data-123459341/

Becker, C. (2021, March 2). How Can Companies Protect Customer Data? Valuer. https://www.valuer.ai/blog/how-can-companies-protect-customer-data

Nathan, G. (2020, June 18). The Importance of Keeping Your Financial Information Secure. The ANSI Blog. https://blog.ansi.org/2018/10/important-keep-financial-information-secure/#gref

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