Take these simple steps to protect your brokerage account when you check it online.
1. Lock the Door Behind You
Log out of or sign off from all online sessions when you're finished. Think of it as locking the door when you leave the house—a basic precaution. If you don't log out, it's possible for someone to use that computer to get into your account. Even closing the browser without logging out isn't enough. Be sure to log out.
2. Guard the Front Door
Many browsers, including Chrome, Safari, Firefox and Internet Explorer, offer to remember your usernames and passwords to secure websites. Never use this feature for secure websites like your brokerage account or bank site. This is twice as important when you use a public, shared computer in a library or hotel.
3. Be Very Careful When Using Wi-Fi
Avoid logging in to secure sites like your brokerage account when using a Wi-Fi or wireless hotspot. It's easy for someone to "listen in" on your surfing and capture your passwords, credit card numbers and other critical information.
If you must use Wi-Fi to access your sensitive accounts, these steps will help you avoid some common problems:
- Keep your computer up-to-date with the latest security updates, firewalls and anti-virus software.
- Make sure your financial sites have a secure web connection at all times—the website address should start with "https://" instead of "http://" (note the additional S). Check a couple of times during your session to make sure.
- If you can, use a Virtual Private Network (VPN), which offers protections that standard networks do not.
- If you have to leave your computer unattended, shut off wireless connectivity or remove the wireless network card.
- Disable wireless ad hoc mode. Disabling this mode prohibits networks that you didn't create from using your wireless software. Also disable file and print sharing.
4. Protect your Password
Create passwords that are long, complex, and include numbers and symbols, change them regularly and do not share them with anyone. Use different passwords for your accounts and don’t store them on the computer. If your password has been stolen, notify the firm where you have the account immediately.
5. Use Only Your Computer
Don't use a computer at a library or hotel business center to access your brokerage or banking account. If you must use a public or borrowed computer, make sure no one is looking over your shoulder or can see the screen, log out when you're finished and clear the browser's cache (all temporary Internet files) and history from the browser after you log out.
FINRA Investor Alert: "Phishing" and Other Online Identity Theft Scams: Don't Take the Bait
FINRA Notice to Members 05-49: Safeguarding Confidential Customer Information
Gerri Walsh is Senior Vice President of Investor Education at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).
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