Investing: Ways to keep your online accounts secure

June 26, 2012 

Some of my clients have mentioned to me that they have been exposed to Internet pop ups and emails attempting to get their personal information. This "phishing" as it's called in technology circles, is a way scammers and thieves steal information about us that will aide them in criminal activities.

By now, we all know someone who has had their identity stolen in some fashion. The information is used to get credit, access bank accounts or even file false tax returns. The recovery process to clean up this mess can often take years as the victim has to prove their true identity and unwind all the bad done to their good name

Since we can't do much of anything these days without a computer or smart phone, I wanted to give some tips to our readers on keeping your online accounts as safe as possible.

First, understand that the hackers are using sophisticated tactics and adjust accordingly. One common tactic is to use a computer program that try millions of common passwords until they work on your computer.

Using popular passwords like "password" or "12341234" can take only a few seconds to crack. Using more difficult combinations with upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols will hold up much better and may send the hacker program looking elsewhere. If you are not good at thinking up something outside the box, use a reputable online password generator to get solid ones.

Second, be careful about the information you post online about yourself. Having multiple social media sites and posting every little detail about your life, business and family can give the crooks a lot of hints on what your passwords may be.

Using date of birth, mother's maiden name, kid's names or pet's names as security questions could be easy to find out if you're posting the details on Facebook. Don't assume any of this information is a secret and try to use the

obscure security questions for online access and password resets.

Next, remember that passwords are only good ones if nobody else knows them. You may receive fake emails or website links that ask for you to verify your password information. One common red flag is poor spelling or grammar in the emails.

However, you may receive a request from what looks like a legitimate sender like a friend, relative or business contact. It's always a good idea to call them on the phone to ensure they sent the message your way.

Finally, try to maintain unique passwords for each online account you have and change them often. How many of us have the same password for all or most of the websites and accounts we access? This may help you keep the passwords straight but it doesn't bode well for your online security.

It's been estimated that almost 66 percent of web users have the same password for at least two websites. This can enable hackers to use passwords stolen from one website to access others. This may sound difficult to do but keeping a cheat sheet with words and letters scrambled or using a password manager can be your best option. These often free services allow you to store info in an encrypted form on your own computer.

Kris Flammang, co-founder of LPF Financial Advisors with offices in Lakewood Ranch, can be reached at 941-907-0101 or kflammang@lpfadvisors.com.

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