8 cyber security tips to safeguard your retirement plans from scammers

This month (October) is cyber security awareness month.

What has cyber security got to do with your retirement you may ask?

Everything, is the answer.

Online scams are everywhere. I read about them all the time. You don’t want your well-thought-out retirement plan being torpedoed due to a lack of online hygiene.

With that in mind, here are 8 tips for ensuring that you stay safe from scammers.

1. Update your passwords on a regular basis

There is always a trade-off when setting a password. It has got to be memorable enough that we don’t forget it and have to reset our password every single time we log in, but obscure enough that it can’t be easily guessed.

Here are a couple of memorable yet hard-to-guess methods of setting passwords that I’ve seen recommended by IT managers and have used myself over the years:

i. Pick a line from a favourite song. Use the first letter of every word in that line, plus a punctuation mark and a random number. For example, a line from Bohemian Rhapsody as a password might be: Sswydtf(9).

This creates a password that looks like a random string of letters, but one that you’ll recall with ease. Plus, you get to sing the line in your head every time you enter your password, which is always a nice bonus.

ii. Use your childhood phone number, the postcode of your first house, or the number plate of your first car (not your current one!). Everybody seems to remember theirs, and it’s personal enough that a stranger on the internet couldn’t figure it out.

2. Supplement your passphrases with multi-factor authentication

Use 2-factor authentication or multi-factor authentication whenever it is offered.

Yes, it is inconvenient, and it makes logging into things fiddlier, but you’ll be kicking yourself if your password is ever compromised and you get locked out of your bank account.

3. Think before you click

Links in emails, tweets, texts, posts, social media messages and online advertising are the easiest way for cybercriminals to get your sensitive information.

Be wary of clicking on links or downloading anything that comes from a stranger or that you were not expecting.

A common scam these days is where emails or texts are seemingly sent from a courier or postal service. These claim that you have a package due to be delivered to you, but that you need to pay fees or confirm details before it can be delivered.

Emails from your bank
If your bank contacts you via email – which many do regularly and legitimately – they will rarely ask you to follow a link to their site.

If an action needs to be taken on your account, the email will usually ask you to log in to your account or call them, not to click through a link.

When you receive any communications from your bank that require you to check your account, open a new tab and go to the login page yourself. Don’t go via a link in an email. Where possible avoid going via a search engine. The safest bet is to access your login page via typing the address in directly or by using a saved bookmark link.

If in doubt, call them using a number that you know to be legitimate and get confirmation.

4. Keep your machine clean

Keep all software on your internet-connected devices – including personal computers, smartphones, and tablets – up-to-date.

This reduces the risk of infection from ransomware and malware.

Even better, you can configure your devices to automatically update or to notify you when an update is available.

5. Always back things up

Protect your valuable files and financial documents.

If you have an in case of death folder, and you really should 🙂 , then this should definitely be backed up.

If you have a copy of your data and your device falls victim to ransomware or other cyber threats, you will at least be able to restore the data from a backup.

6. Own your online presence

Every time you sign up for a new account, download a new app, or get a new device, immediately configure the privacy and security settings to your comfort level for information sharing.

Regularly check these settings (at least once a year) to make sure they are still configured to your comfort.

7. Personal Information

Be super careful about the information that you share online.

Give away as little as possible. The more that you put out there, the more vulnerable you are to identity theft or approaches from potential scammers. E.g.,

  • Each time you post a birthday post, for you or for someone you love, you’re telling your followers their (or your) date of birth.
  • If you join in on a post on a public Facebook page that says “your aristocrat name is Lord/Lady plus the name of your first pet, then your mum’s maiden name and the make of your first car double-barrelled”, you’ve published the answers to three common security questions.
  • Posting details of your first school also answers a commonly used security question.

You get the idea. You don’t have to swear off social media, just be mindful of the information you’re putting out there and who is seeing it.

8. Be wary of public Wi-FI

Public networks and hotspots are not secure.

Limit what you do on public Wi-Fi and avoid logging in to your key accounts such as email and financial services.

Consider using a virtual private network (VPN) or a personal/mobile hotspot if you need a more secure connection.

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