Finance 101 10 Ways to Protect Your Personal Information Online

by Karen Gibbs | May 02, 2023

With data breaches and identity theft in the news practically every week, you may be wondering what you can do to secure your finances. 

Here are 10 of the best measures you can take, according to experts. If you’re not already doing these, it’s easy to make them a part of your routine to safeguard your accounts.

1. Keep crucial numbers secure

One basic way to protect your finances is simply paying attention and making your privacy a priority. Don’t print Social Security and driver’s license numbers on the checks you write, or jot down your PINs and passwords on cards, for example, and never give your credit or debit card and PIN to someone else to use. When you’re at an ATM, in addition to shielding the view of your PIN, look for signs a card reader has been tampered with, such as loose components or wires; that may mean the device has been fitted with a skimmer, which can record your personal information.

Another key precaution: If you’re donating or discarding an old computer, wipe the hard drive to remove all your personal and financial files, says Gerri Walsh, president of the Investor Education Foundation at the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority (FINRA).

2. Create strong passwords or pass phrases

This is one of the most important steps to secure your accounts. What’s considered strong? Passwords that include lowercase and uppercase letters, numbers and symbols, if allowed, or try pass phrases such as My@untLov3sCa$h, suggests Walsh. Use different passwords for each account and change them, as well as the PIN of your ATM card, regularly.

If you’re having trouble remembering all your passwords, says Walsh, it may be worth the nominal fee to use a password manager that randomly generates secure passwords for your accounts while allowing you to use a simple master password. With strong encryption, it also protects PINs, CVV codes, credit card numbers and answers to security questions.

If you’re donating or discarding an old computer, wipe the hard drive to remove all your personal and financial files.
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3. Be mindful with mail habits

If you’re not doing transactions digitally, it’s generally safer to send bills, money or checks from the post office or an official postal mailbox rather than your personal mailbox. And it’s a good idea to collect your mail daily because pre-approved credit cards, bank statements, bills and envelopes that may contain blank checks can be valuable to thieves.

If you do notice a bank or billing statement is missing, report it immediately, and consider switching to paperless statements.

4. Monitor your credit

The prevailing advice is to check your credit at least once a year to spot any mistakes or potential fraud, but you might consider requesting and reviewing your credit report every four months for extra peace of mind.

You may be able to accomplish this at no cost by visiting, and alternating between the three major credit bureaus Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Using one dedicated email address just for financial communications from banks, credit card companies and investment companies can help you streamline this too.

5. Beware of fake websites

Some online fraudsters mimic authentic websites with fake versions meant to fool users into inputting their credentials, so you’ll want to make sure you’re always using a company’s official site. Avoid those with a URL that starts with http rather than https, and before you click on links within an email, be certain that you know the sender.

6. Avoid phishing scams

Fraudulent offers can come via email, text or website, and some of the most common scams request money or personal information for various reasons: to claim a sweepstakes prize or “update” your profile, for example. Others claim the funds or data are needed because the sender’s website has been hacked. Never click on links or respond to requests like these, Walsh warns; your best bet to check whether the outreach is legitimate is to call the company or institution instead.

Man entering his credit card number into his laptop

7. Shred sensitive documents

Using a cross-shredder to destroy documents containing account numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information is always advisable, says Walsh. If you don’t have a shredder, check whether your bank sponsors a shredding event, where you can take care of this all at once.

8. Share cautiously on social media

Even seemingly harmless details like your alma mater or the name of your family pet can create a vulnerability (think of the common security questions used to verify your identity online), so you may want to think twice before posting anything personal.

9. Be diligent with your devices

To shield your information from unwanted access, consider added measures like encrypting your email and enabling two-factor authentication, which sends a one-time passcode to a trusted device whenever you attempt to sign in to an online account. At the very least, maintaining anti-virus and anti-malware protection, and setting up your computer to install updates automatically, are safety best practices.

Using a cross-shredder to destroy documents containing account numbers, Social Security numbers or other personal information is always advisable.
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10. Stay vigilant

Kids are told, “Don’t talk to strangers” — and the same advice holds true when it comes to your financial information. Don’t reveal personal or financial information to people you don’t know, whether it’s by phone, email, mail or in person, and never wire money to someone who claims to be a friend or relative until you have personally contacted that individual to confirm the request.


— With additional reporting from Life and Money by Citi editors

Karen Gibbs

is a freelance journalist, regular contributor to and content creator for brands such as Procter & Gamble and Bed Bath & Beyond.