Issue 27: 2014

Technology

Three Steps to a More Secure Digital Life

As you move more of your information online, here’s how you can safeguard your assets, preserve your good name, and assist your family.

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Wesley Bedrosian

 

You’re almost certainly reading this digital-only issue of Capital Acumen on your computer or iPad. That means you probably do a lot of other things on a digital device: banking, investing, shopping, connecting with friends and family, storing important documents and precious photos. Technology may even have become so much a part of your life that you barely think about it. And then something happens:

  • Hackers steal your identity or your assets.
  • Someone sees photos you posted on social media and makes disparaging comments about you.
  • You forget about an online account you set up (for investing or shopping or digital storage). That leaves you in the dark if it’s accessed by cyber criminals. And your beneficiaries out of the loop if you become incapacitated.

What you need are more digital-safety measures. Because, while no one can be fully safe on the Internet, you can improve your security immensely by following these three steps:

  1. Protect yourself against identity theft.
  2. Manage your online reputation.
  3. Organize your digital assets.

Protect yourself against identity theft

If you’ve never had your personal information stolen, count yourself lucky. Last year alone, in just a few highly publicized cases in the United States, hackers pilfered almost 200 million user records, including credit- and debit-card numbers. The prized digits from those cards typically end up for sale on illicit online trading sites.

Be smart about what you post to social media.

And identity theft can extend beyond credit-card data stored on corporate servers. Anyone hoping to compile a full profile of you can search for your Social Security number, home address, family members’ names and other personal details. Their collection techniques, often illegal, include:

  • Phishing: Thieves posing as financial or credit professionals “phish” (pronounced “fish”) for personal information via telephone calls or phony email messages.
  • Spyware: Malicious software, or malware, installs on your device when you click on an email link or bogus advertisement, capturing and transmitting personal information.
  • Hacking: Thieves illegally invade email, online accounts, computer networks, systems and databases to obtain large volumes of personal data.
  • Shoulder surfing: Decidedly low tech, this kind of “surfing” happens when you key in credit card numbers or passwords in public places where others could see.
  • Social networking: Criminals troll social network sites and look for personal information you or others have posted — home address, vacation plans and so forth.

Is that you? Taken together, this information can allow thieves to pretend to be you in order to access your financial resources or other assets. If they are successful, your credit scores and financial standing can be damaged.


Wesley Bedrosian

 

Identity theft: How can you prevent it? Protecting your identity is an ongoing process. Consider taking these actions — what are sometimes called the “3 Ds”:

Look for charges or withdrawals you did not make.

Deter.

  • Use the Internet cautiously and guard your personal information.
  • Avoid obvious passwords such as your birth date or a child’s name.
  • Never carry your passwords with you.
  • At home, keep anything with personal information in a secure location.
  • Do not disclose personal information over the phone unless you know whom you are talking to. Never do so using a wireless connection.
  • Never click on links in unsolicited emails.
  • Use firewalls and install and use (and regularly update) antivirus/anti-spyware programs on your home computer.
  • Be smart about what you post to social media.
  • Shred all unwanted documents containing personal information, such as credit card bills. Consider paperless options.

Detect.

  • Routinely monitor your financial statements and billing statements.
  • Keep track of when statements and bills usually arrive and follow up if any seem late.
  • Look for charges or withdrawals you did not make.
  • Obtain your credit scores from time to time and check whether (and why) they have declined recently. (To obtain your scores, contact annualcreditreport.com or 1.877.322.8228 for a free copy of reports from all three credit reporting agencies.)

Defend.

  • Close accounts you know or suspect have been opened fraudulently or tampered with.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. A fraud alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before opening new accounts or making changes to existing accounts in your name.
  • Contact the security departments of each company where an account was improperly opened or charged without your permission.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: ftc.gov/idtheft or 1.877.ID.THEFT.
  • File a complaint with your local police or with authorities where the identity theft took place. This will help you correct your credit report and deal with creditors who may want proof of the crime.

Manage your online reputation1

If you’ve ever posted to social media, uploaded snapshots or videos, written comments in a blog or shared links to websites, you may already have an online reputation, or “e-reputation.”  Unfortunately, once your material is out there, others can add their own opinions, for good or ill. Still others can find that information and make judgments about you. If you have a positive online reputation, it could soon be at stake. You need to protect it.

What to be concerned about. There are many ways you can damage your e-reputation:

  • Posting inappropriate or offensive messages, images, photographs or videos.
  • Sharing personal, private or confidential information.
  • Sharing content pertaining to the use of alcohol or illegal substances, lewd acts or even criminal behavior.
  • Making discriminatory remarks.
  • Posting negative comments or propaganda about previous or current teachers, professors or employers.
  • Using poor grammar or incorrect spelling.

Why you should care. Be careful what you post about yourself (and monitor and try and limit what others post about you) because you never know who’s going to view it. That includes:

  • Corporations doing due diligence on prospective employees.
  • Colleges choosing which students to admit for the next semester.
  • Individuals hoping to learn the habits of a possible romantic partner.
  • Family members who may adjust their succession plans based on what they see online.


Wesley Bedrosian

 

What you should do. Clearly, in today’s ever-expanding cyber world, one’s online reputation is becoming more relevant and important. And protecting it has never been more vital. Here are six steps you can take to protect your good name.

  1. Think ahead. Be careful of any content you place in cyberspace. Know that anyone may come across it.
  2. Be proactive and positive. Establish a strong and positive presence online. Do your best not to be overly critical of others, and avoid so-called social media battles.
  3. Inform friends and family. Make sure that others are not posting unflattering photographs or notes about you on media sites.
  4. Secure everything. Protect your accounts and financial information from hackers. Never reveal unnecessary personal information online.
  5. Monitor your reputation. Use periodic Internet searches to evaluate how you appear online. Be sure to review everything being written or posted by or about you.
  6. Clean up past mistakes. Though it may not always be possible to remove everything, be sure to go back and delete any offending comments, postings, photos or videos from social media sites, blogs or anywhere else.

Organize Your Digital Assets

Do you know what your digital assets are and where they are located? Keeping track can sometimes seem difficult, if not impossible. Yet organizing (and regularly updating) a log of your assets is important for a number of reasons.

  • It will give you better control of your information.
  • It will give you the ability to assess risks presented by viruses and cyber-attacks.
  • It will help your family or estate executor in the event that you are incapacitated or die.

What are digital assets? They are often divided into four categories:

  • Personal digital assets can include photos or videos; emails; music; medical records; blogs; airline miles; gaming assets.
  • Social digital assets can include accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.
  • Financial digital assets can include shopping sites, such as Amazon or eBay; bill-paying sites like PayPal and BillPay; tax documents and software; credit cards; access to banking and brokerage accounts; virtual currencies such as Bitcoins; U.S. savings bonds (sold exclusively digital since 2012).
  • Business digital assets can include domain names and blogs; patient or customer information; eBay seller information; intellectual property.
Do you know what your digital assets are and where they are located?

For all four categories, all related user names and passwords are also digital assets.

What value can digital assets have? Too often we equate value with its worth in money. When it comes to digital assets, many will have value beyond a financial exchange. Digital assets may have as many as three separate values:

  • Monetary value (e.g., airline miles, Bitcoins, intellectual property).
  • Sentimental value (e.g., family photos and videos, posts to social media sites, personal blogs).
  • “Good steward” value (e.g., records that help heirs to access and distribute digital assets according to your wishes).


Wesley Bedrosian

 

What can you do to organize your digital assets? This stage can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve never attempted to list your assets before. These steps will help you get started.

  1. Create an inventory of your digital assets. List storage locations: online (e.g., in email, Dropbox), on digital devices (e.g., computers, tablets, cell phones, hard drives) or as hard copy locations. Include user names, passwords, web addresses and other necessary information.
  2. Create secure storage for the digital inventory, but always provide a trusted family member or advisor with instructions on how to access it. Your inventory might be written down (and kept with your attorney or in a safe or safe deposit box), in digital form or both.
  3. Update and backup your digital inventory regularly, especially when you change user names or passwords, or transfer data between devices or online storage resources such as Dropbox.
  4. Check your digital assets regularly to see if you can detect signs they have been hacked. For instance, are there charges or withdrawals you don’t recognize?
  5. Create an incapacity and estate plan. Update your power of attorney, wills, trusts and other documents as needed and where applicable to ensure the proper administration of your digital assets by your appointed fiduciaries. Express your wishes regarding the transfer of your digital assets. Consider using a digital executor, someone who is experienced with computers and the Internet.

(For additional guidance, check out our sample Digital Inventory Worksheet. The worksheet is part of U.S. Trust’s Financial Empowerment program, our financial education program for young adults.)

Protect, manage, organize — now

The Internet, as is well known, can be a force for good or evil — and its power and attraction are certainly going to intensify in the years ahead. Protecting yourself from identity theft, managing your online reputation and organizing your digital assets are three of the most important actions you can take. Follow the steps we’ve outlined here, and if you think you could use more guidance, be sure to contact your U.S. Trust advisor.

1Source: “Taking charge of your online reputation,” Microsoft Safety & Security Center, microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/reputation.aspx.(Retrieved August 2014.)


Wesley Bedrosian

 

You’re almost certainly reading this digital-only issue of Capital Acumen on your computer or iPad. That means you probably do a lot of other things on a digital device: banking, investing, shopping, connecting with friends and family, storing important documents and precious photos. Technology may even have become so much a part of your life that you barely think about it. And then something happens:

  • Hackers steal your identity or your assets.
  • Someone sees photos you posted on social media and makes disparaging comments about you.
  • You forget about an online account you set up (for investing or shopping or digital storage). That leaves you in the dark if it’s accessed by cyber criminals. And your beneficiaries out of the loop if you become incapacitated.

What you need are more digital-safety measures. Because, while no one can be fully safe on the Internet, you can improve your security immensely by following these three steps:

  1. Protect yourself against identity theft.
  2. Manage your online reputation.
  3. Organize your digital assets.

Protect yourself against identity theft

If you’ve never had your personal information stolen, count yourself lucky. Last year alone, in just a few highly publicized cases in the United States, hackers pilfered almost 200 million user records, including credit- and debit-card numbers. The prized digits from those cards typically end up for sale on illicit online trading sites.

Be smart about what you post to social media.

And identity theft can extend beyond credit-card data stored on corporate servers. Anyone hoping to compile a full profile of you can search for your Social Security number, home address, family members’ names and other personal details. Their collection techniques, often illegal, include:

  • Phishing: Thieves posing as financial or credit professionals “phish” (pronounced “fish”) for personal information via telephone calls or phony email messages.
  • Spyware: Malicious software, or malware, installs on your device when you click on an email link or bogus advertisement, capturing and transmitting personal information.
  • Hacking: Thieves illegally invade email, online accounts, computer networks, systems and databases to obtain large volumes of personal data.
  • Shoulder surfing: Decidedly low tech, this kind of “surfing” happens when you key in credit card numbers or passwords in public places where others could see.
  • Social networking: Criminals troll social network sites and look for personal information you or others have posted — home address, vacation plans and so forth.

Is that you? Taken together, this information can allow thieves to pretend to be you in order to access your financial resources or other assets. If they are successful, your credit scores and financial standing can be damaged.


Wesley Bedrosian

 

Identity theft: How can you prevent it? Protecting your identity is an ongoing process. Consider taking these actions — what are sometimes called the “3 Ds”:

Look for charges or withdrawals you did not make.

Deter.

  • Use the Internet cautiously and guard your personal information.
  • Avoid obvious passwords such as your birth date or a child’s name.
  • Never carry your passwords with you.
  • At home, keep anything with personal information in a secure location.
  • Do not disclose personal information over the phone unless you know whom you are talking to. Never do so using a wireless connection.
  • Never click on links in unsolicited emails.
  • Use firewalls and install and use (and regularly update) antivirus/anti-spyware programs on your home computer.
  • Be smart about what you post to social media.
  • Shred all unwanted documents containing personal information, such as credit card bills. Consider paperless options.

Detect.

  • Routinely monitor your financial statements and billing statements.
  • Keep track of when statements and bills usually arrive and follow up if any seem late.
  • Look for charges or withdrawals you did not make.
  • Obtain your credit scores from time to time and check whether (and why) they have declined recently. (To obtain your scores, contact annualcreditreport.com or 1.877.322.8228 for a free copy of reports from all three credit reporting agencies.)

Defend.

  • Close accounts you know or suspect have been opened fraudulently or tampered with.
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review the reports carefully. A fraud alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before opening new accounts or making changes to existing accounts in your name.
  • Contact the security departments of each company where an account was improperly opened or charged without your permission.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: ftc.gov/idtheft or 1.877.ID.THEFT.
  • File a complaint with your local police or with authorities where the identity theft took place. This will help you correct your credit report and deal with creditors who may want proof of the crime.

Manage your online reputation1

If you’ve ever posted to social media, uploaded snapshots or videos, written comments in a blog or shared links to websites, you may already have an online reputation, or “e-reputation.”  Unfortunately, once your material is out there, others can add their own opinions, for good or ill. Still others can find that information and make judgments about you. If you have a positive online reputation, it could soon be at stake. You need to protect it.

What to be concerned about. There are many ways you can damage your e-reputation:

  • Posting inappropriate or offensive messages, images, photographs or videos.
  • Sharing personal, private or confidential information.
  • Sharing content pertaining to the use of alcohol or illegal substances, lewd acts or even criminal behavior.
  • Making discriminatory remarks.
  • Posting negative comments or propaganda about previous or current teachers, professors or employers.
  • Using poor grammar or incorrect spelling.

Why you should care. Be careful what you post about yourself (and monitor and try and limit what others post about you) because you never know who’s going to view it. That includes:

  • Corporations doing due diligence on prospective employees.
  • Colleges choosing which students to admit for the next semester.
  • Individuals hoping to learn the habits of a possible romantic partner.
  • Family members who may adjust their succession plans based on what they see online.


Wesley Bedrosian

 

What you should do. Clearly, in today’s ever-expanding cyber world, one’s online reputation is becoming more relevant and important. And protecting it has never been more vital. Here are six steps you can take to protect your good name.

  1. Think ahead. Be careful of any content you place in cyberspace. Know that anyone may come across it.
  2. Be proactive and positive. Establish a strong and positive presence online. Do your best not to be overly critical of others, and avoid so-called social media battles.
  3. Inform friends and family. Make sure that others are not posting unflattering photographs or notes about you on media sites.
  4. Secure everything. Protect your accounts and financial information from hackers. Never reveal unnecessary personal information online.
  5. Monitor your reputation. Use periodic Internet searches to evaluate how you appear online. Be sure to review everything being written or posted by or about you.
  6. Clean up past mistakes. Though it may not always be possible to remove everything, be sure to go back and delete any offending comments, postings, photos or videos from social media sites, blogs or anywhere else.

Organize Your Digital Assets

Do you know what your digital assets are and where they are located? Keeping track can sometimes seem difficult, if not impossible. Yet organizing (and regularly updating) a log of your assets is important for a number of reasons.

  • It will give you better control of your information.
  • It will give you the ability to assess risks presented by viruses and cyber-attacks.
  • It will help your family or estate executor in the event that you are incapacitated or die.

What are digital assets? They are often divided into four categories:

  • Personal digital assets can include photos or videos; emails; music; medical records; blogs; airline miles; gaming assets.
  • Social digital assets can include accounts on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram.
  • Financial digital assets can include shopping sites, such as Amazon or eBay; bill-paying sites like PayPal and BillPay; tax documents and software; credit cards; access to banking and brokerage accounts; virtual currencies such as Bitcoins; U.S. savings bonds (sold exclusively digital since 2012).
  • Business digital assets can include domain names and blogs; patient or customer information; eBay seller information; intellectual property.
Do you know what your digital assets are and where they are located?

For all four categories, all related user names and passwords are also digital assets.

What value can digital assets have? Too often we equate value with its worth in money. When it comes to digital assets, many will have value beyond a financial exchange. Digital assets may have as many as three separate values:

  • Monetary value (e.g., airline miles, Bitcoins, intellectual property).
  • Sentimental value (e.g., family photos and videos, posts to social media sites, personal blogs).
  • “Good steward” value (e.g., records that help heirs to access and distribute digital assets according to your wishes).


Wesley Bedrosian

 

What can you do to organize your digital assets? This stage can sometimes seem overwhelming, especially if you’ve never attempted to list your assets before. These steps will help you get started.

  1. Create an inventory of your digital assets. List storage locations: online (e.g., in email, Dropbox), on digital devices (e.g., computers, tablets, cell phones, hard drives) or as hard copy locations. Include user names, passwords, web addresses and other necessary information.
  2. Create secure storage for the digital inventory, but always provide a trusted family member or advisor with instructions on how to access it. Your inventory might be written down (and kept with your attorney or in a safe or safe deposit box), in digital form or both.
  3. Update and backup your digital inventory regularly, especially when you change user names or passwords, or transfer data between devices or online storage resources such as Dropbox.
  4. Check your digital assets regularly to see if you can detect signs they have been hacked. For instance, are there charges or withdrawals you don’t recognize?
  5. Create an incapacity and estate plan. Update your power of attorney, wills, trusts and other documents as needed and where applicable to ensure the proper administration of your digital assets by your appointed fiduciaries. Express your wishes regarding the transfer of your digital assets. Consider using a digital executor, someone who is experienced with computers and the Internet.

(For additional guidance, check out our sample Digital Inventory Worksheet. The worksheet is part of U.S. Trust’s Financial Empowerment program, our financial education program for young adults.)

Protect, manage, organize — now

The Internet, as is well known, can be a force for good or evil — and its power and attraction are certainly going to intensify in the years ahead. Protecting yourself from identity theft, managing your online reputation and organizing your digital assets are three of the most important actions you can take. Follow the steps we’ve outlined here, and if you think you could use more guidance, be sure to contact your U.S. Trust advisor.

1Source: “Taking charge of your online reputation,” Microsoft Safety & Security Center, microsoft.com/security/online-privacy/reputation.aspx.(Retrieved August 2014.)