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APRIL 08, 2020

Online safety: Tips to help protect your personal and financial information

It's always an ideal time to focus on keeping your financial information out of criminals’ hands. Many of today’s fraud rings target consumer information they can easily access online, says BMO Financial Group’s Chief Information Security Officer, Aman Raheja. As a result, learning more about basic cyber security (online safety) can go a long way toward keeping your financial accounts and personal information private.

Here are some of Raheja’s best tips to help protect yourself and your information over the internet. And—good news—you can do all of these things on your own, even if you’re not electronically savvy.

Regularly check your credit
If you’ve been affected by a recent data breach of any kind, this is a key first step. And even if you weren’t impacted, it’s good practice to regularly review your credit file. Monitor your credit reports (via www.annualcreditreport.com) for new accounts or other details you don’t recognize. These could be signs that someone is fraudulently accessing your accounts or otherwise fraudulently using your personal or financial information.

Freeze your credit file
You may want to consider freezing all three of your credit files: those at Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. A credit freeze:

  • Makes it much harder for someone to open a new credit card or other account in your name
  • Is a simple process to set up, and you can easily “thaw” your credit if you ever need to apply for new credit.

Just keep in mind that freezing your credit doesn’t prevent fraudsters from making charges to your existing accounts. That’s why Raheja strongly encourages you to keep monitoring your credit files even if you freeze them.

Request a fraud alert on your credit file
If you’d rather not go for a full credit freeze, you can instead ask the credit agencies to put this alert on your files.

A fraud alert:

  • Notifies creditors that you’ve been a victim of identity theft
  • Encourages creditors to do a much more careful background check before approving new credit accounts

Use strong passwords and update them regularly
This sounds like a basic move, but it’s still very important. Raheja recommends using passwords that are strong, not easily guessed (like your children’s or pets’ names) and unique.

Further, Raheja suggests to use long passphrases, rather than passwords, where systems, websites or applications support it. It provides protection against brute-force attacks and password spraying attacks, especially if the passphrase also contain complexity, like lower and upper case letters, numbers and special characters.

“Ninety percent of all less-secure passwords can be cracked within seconds,” notes Raheja. So don’t make it easy for fraudsters to get into your bank or other accounts. And absolutely, positively don’t reuse your Facebook, Twitter or other passwords on your bank account. Don’t use your bank account password for other accounts, either. Also, consider setting up two-factor authentication for extra protection when you bank online.

Be less personal on social media
Many people use their birthdate, their pets’ or children’s names, the city in which they were born and other information as part of their internet passwords and online security challenge questions. If a cyberthief wanted to impersonate you, they might easily find some of this information on your Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other online accounts. Be careful about how much you share.

Don’t take the phishing bait
Phishing emails are fraudulent emails that look frighteningly similar to real emails from a bank or other reputable organization. These emails may ask you to “verify” certain pieces of your existing account information. If you click on links in these emails, explains Raheja, they may take you to fake sites designed to steal your financial and personal information. These links can also download computer viruses and malware.

BMO never sends emails asking you to verify account information, reminds Raheja. If you get an email that appears to be from BMO but looks at all suspicious, report it right away to bmoharris.phish@bmo.com.

Raheja also encourages BMO customers to download the free Trusteer Rapport Software. The Trusteer app:

  • Can help prevent financial malware on all of your digital devices
  • Secures your connection to bmoharris.com when you bank online and helps protect your computer from common online threats
  • Is downloadable from the Apple Store, Google Play or BMO

Keep a tight grip on mobile device safety
More and more people are accessing their financial accounts and using mobile-payment apps on their smartphones and tablets. According to Raheja, experts are still learning how to best prevent mobile device crime. That means you should be extra careful about protecting personal and financial information on your devices.

  • Keep it locked. Fraudsters can’t physically access your phone/tablet if it’s protected. Be sure to set strong passcodes for unlocking your mobile device. Also, follow directions from your phone manufacturer or service provider to find or lock your phone if it’s lost or stolen. You may also want to set up the option to wipe all information from your phone/tablet if you can’t recover it.
  • Put safety at your fingertips. If you’re an Apple user, you can now use your fingerprint as your password for BMO Mobile Banking. This feature is available through Touch ID Sign In on Apple iPhones 5s and newer, and running iOS 8 or higher.
  • Be wary of public Wi-Fi. If you shop or do banking on your mobile device, only use your cell connection or a secure Wi-Fi connection. The best Wi-Fi networks use secure passwords, such as the trusted ones at your home or workplace. Avoid doing financial transactions on public Wi-Fi networks (free hotspots with no password or a password available to anyone). Fraudsters love them because they make it easy to hack into your banking or other financial information.

Protecting your children online

  • According to a 2018 study, approximately 50% of teen girls and 39% of teen boys are near-constant online users. With 95% of teens having access to smartphones and 45% admitting that they’re online constantly, they’ve become prime targets for various types of cyber crime. Share these tips with your teens:
  • If you wouldn’t say or share it on a busy street corner, don’t put it on social media. When it comes to social media, privacy is always key.
  • Avoid publicly sharing locations on social profiles. While it may be fun to show friends where you are and what you’re doing, fraudsters can use this information for malicious attacks.
  • Always review an app’s privacy settings before downloading it. Some apps may be lots of fun but may come at the cost of your personal information and phone security.

Seniors Online
Nearly half of today’s seniors own smartphones and are connected online. Unfortunately scammers target seniors because they tend to be wealthier, more trusting and less likely to report fraud, according to the FBI. A 2015 report estimated that seniors lose $36.5 billion each year to financial scams and abuse. Seniors should:

  • Use strong (8 to 12 characters, including numbers and symbols) and unique passwords for all their accounts.  Use a Password manager to keep track of those passwords.
  • Keep your antivirus software up to date to prevent hackers from accessing your computer. Don’t fall for phone calls that ask to access your computer to “update or fix” your computer.
  • Don’t give your personal information over the phone or in emails. Banks and governments will never call or email and ask for your password, accounts or demand payments. 

For more tips on helping protect your financial and personal details online, contact BMO or check out our BMOHarris Security Center.