RICHMOND — Americans increasingly rely on the internet for almost all aspects of their lives, whether they are shopping for insurance or a loan, banking, investing or paying utility and other bills.
According to the Department of Homeland Security, 56 percent of American adults own smart phones. More than half of adults use online banking services and almost one-third of them do so using their mobile devices. Although the internet and apps are useful and convenient when managing money, they also can leave users vulnerable to cyberthreats such as fraud and identity theft.
October is National Cybersecurity Awareness Month. The State Corporation Commission (SCC) encourages Virginians to protect themselves personally and financially when surfing the internet or conducting business online.
The SCC offers the following cybersecurity safety tips:
- Passwords – Creating a strong password is your first line of defense when safeguarding important financial information. To create a strong password, use eight or more characters with a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers. Avoid using children’s names, pets’ names or birth dates. Refrain from using simple number combinations for PIN codes such as 1234 or 1111.
- Multi-factor authentication – Enable stronger authentication whenever possible. Most financial accounts will have multi-factor authentication to verify a user’s identity and authorization to access an account (i.e., a text with a one-time code to access an account). These small additional steps could prevent hackers from getting into your personal accounts and retrieving sensitive personal and financial information.
- Regularly manage your account – Check your financial accounts regularly. Review bank, investment, credit card and other statements weekly to catch fraud or identity theft in the early stages. Always confirm purchases made on your credit or debit cards. Review money spent using any applications on your mobile device, such as Uber or Lyft.
- Use caution before revealing sensitive information – Be conscientious about which apps, websites and connected devices you use, and how and where you plan to use them. Know how a device works, as well as the network connections the device uses and how those connections transmit and store information. You don’t want to give out information unintentionally, especially for accounts carrying sensitive financial data. Don’t click on links or open attachments in unsolicited or suspicious emails. If a website, application or email asks for your social security number or bank account information, double-check its credibility, source and whether it’s secure before giving out personal information.
- Back Up Your Data – Protect your data by backing it up on an external hard drive, cloud-based storage or other appropriate recovery methods. This reduces your vulnerability to cyberthreats such as ransomware.
To learn more about National Cybersecurity Awareness Month and how to stay safe online, visit https://www.dhs.gov/national-cyber-security-awareness-month. If you are a victim of cybercrime, contact your local authorities and file a complaint with the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.IC3.gov. If you have questions or concerns relating to insurance, securities or financial institutions, the SCC may be able to help. You can reach us at 1-800-552-7945 (toll-free in Virginia), or at 804- 371-9967 or at www.scc.virginia.gov.