Your trusted financial institutions should have solid privacy protocols in place. But you can take steps to protect sensitive information on your end, too.
Many of our day-to-day activities leave a trail of data behind – every phone call, credit card swipe and website click adds a speck of new information to our digital presence. And service providers want as much of that data as they can get. They collect and monetize information about your habits, browsing history, purchases and more.
You’re probably familiar with some of the ways this data is used. Shopped for a particular clothing piece? Suddenly, your ads are full of similar styles. Left an item in your virtual cart? The retailer follows up with an email, perhaps with a small discount to entice you further.
These conveniences may seem harmless. But the fact that your trove of personal data can be shared with others – typically without your knowledge or consent – is reason to be wary, especially when more sensitive information is involved.
Data security and data privacy are often used interchangeably, but there are distinct differences.
Data security relates to tools used to protect your data from external attackers and other bad actors. “We typically think of security as being that front-line perimeter for us,” says Raymond James Chief Privacy Officer Rob Patchett. “Data privacy is more concerned with lawful collection and use of one’s personal information.”
Any company that you’re trusting with your information – especially personally identifiable information, or PII – should have robust policies and infrastructure around both privacy and security.
Examples of PII include:
The companies entrusted with your data should have strong privacy protocols in place, but there are small steps you can take on your end, too. “Individually, we have a responsibility to be mindful of how we’re sharing our information and are protecting it – not leaving it open for easy access,” says Patchett.
Here’s some guidance to get you started:
Review your financial statements. As soon as they arrive, look through your bank, brokerage and credit card statements to confirm that the listed transactions were legitimate.
Tip: Requesting paperless delivery wherever possible can help provide easy, timely access to important documents.
Update your contact information. Be sure your financial institutions always have the most up-to-date mailing and email addresses to reach you.
Secure confidential documents. Keep all your financial documents in a secure place to further deter ransomware, theft, viruses or technology failures. Your financial advisor may have access to tools for securely storing digital files.
Don’t respond to requests for personal information. Criminals often “phish” for PII by impersonating legitimate organizations through email, text message or advertisement. If you receive a request like this – particularly via an unencrypted email – call your financial advisor or the bank, credit card company, etc. directly to confirm you’re speaking with the real deal. “Do not open those emails. Delete those emails immediately,” Patchett emphasizes.
Tip: If you use Gmail, the small downward-facing arrow beside the “to” field will reveal whether an email was received through an encryption method.
Check for secured websites. When you access your financial accounts online, check that the log-in page is a secured site. There should be a security protocol in the browser address – “https” rather than “http”, explains Patchett. Secured sites’ URLs will also display a key or closed padlock that, when clicked, confirms the identity of the site.
Enable multi-factor authentication (MFA). Many institutions require this safety measure already. But if given the choice, always turn on MFA – meaning you’ll provide an additional verification method such as a text, email or fingerprint when logging in. Patchett adds, “Really make sure you’ve got a strong password in place, and don’t use the same password with your other accounts.”
Ask the question. If you’d like to know more about a financial company’s data privacy policies, ask – your financial advisor can provide more information, and many organizations often outline their account protection standards on their website. It’s one small step you can take to stay informed about the use of your personal data.