Safeguarding your own information: Account owner security checklist


While we strive to keep your information and transactions safe, there are actions you can take to contribute to your own security. The following are some best practices to follow.

Protect your account

  • Do not use your Social Security number (SSN), in full or in part, for a password or PIN.
  • Review your credit reports frequently (at least once a year). Verify the information listed about you is up to date and accurate and that it includes only those accounts and activities you've authorized. Work with the credit reporting agencies to have any inaccurate information removed.
  • Store your Social Security card, other identification cards, checks and accounts statements in a safe and secure location.
  • Do not carry your Social Security card, passport or birth certificate with you unless absolutely needed.
  • Do not share your personal or financial information over the phone or in person unless the information is absolutely necessary and you can confirm that the individual and company are legitimate.
  • Frequently monitor your financial accounts and report any suspected fraudulent transaction immediately.
  • Retrieve and review your mail promptly.
  • Shred financial documents no longer needed, pre-approved credit offers, receipts, and other documents that may contain financial and personal information.

Protect your computers, cell phone and other mobile devices

  • Install and set your anti-virus and anti-malware software to update automatically.
  • Activate all operating system security features on your internet capable devices.
  • Make sure your personal computer and home network are properly protected from malware by setting up your firewall. Check to see that the firewall has been properly installed - or enabled if it came bundled with your operating system.
  • Make sure to keep your web browser software up-to-date by installing the most recent version.
  • Keep the operating system for your computer or mobile device up-to-date.
  • Never leave your computer, cell phone, or other mobile devices logged on and/or unattended in public.
  • Password protect and lock your computers, cell phone, or other mobile devices when not in use.
  • Only download applications from reputable sources. Be suspicious when installing applications that require you to provide information that has nothing to do with the application's purpose.
  • If you believe your mobile device is infected with malware, contact your service provider.

Keep your information secure

  • If you have any doubts about the authenticity of an email, which appears to be from your 529, ABLE, or State-sponsored retirement plan, from Ascensus, or involves your 529, ABLE, or State-sponsored retirement plan account, attach the suspicious emails you have received to a new email and email them to your plan's customer service. Then, be sure to delete the suspicious emails from your mailbox.
  • Do not click on links or attachments if an email seems suspicious, especially if they tell you the problem is urgent. This is known as scareware and intended to make you react without thinking.
  • Do not give out personal information. Check a website's privacy policy before you give them your email address.
  • Create strong passwords. Make your password hard for others to guess by using a combination of letters, numbers and symbols that are meaningful only to you. Avoid using the same password for multiple websites, particularly financial websites, and be sure to change your password often (at least annually). See also "Create a strong password" below.
  • Account owners should also avoid using the same password for multiple sites and may want to consider using a password manager (software to securely hold multiple passwords) to securely manage passwords.
  • Never share your password with anyone.
  • Do not include personal or sensitive data in, or in response to, an email.
  • Monitor your account activity closely and watch for unusual activity.
  • Promptly review all transaction confirmations, account statements, and any email or paper correspondence sent by your plan.
  • When you finish your online and/or mobile banking sessions, be sure to log out. Simply closing the browser window does not equate to logging out. By clicking on the X to close the browser window your online session may still be open.
  • Shred documents containing personal information.
  • Protect your mail from theft. If you are planning to be away from home, call or go online to contact the U.S. Postal Service and request a vacation hold.
  • Be aware of your surroundings when making purchases or using the ATM. Thieves have been known to copy credit card information or take pictures of cards on their cell phones.

Practice safe web browsing

  • Only allow pop-ups from sites that you authorize.
  • Only make online purchases using secure sites that encrypt your information. Instead of following links, go directly to the store's Web site and navigate to find the special sale items. To help ensure that your information is protected when shopping or banking online, look for an unbroken key, or padlock at the bottom of your Web browser or within the address bar. When you are asked to provide payment information, the beginning of the Web site's URL address should change from http to https, indicating that the purchase is encrypted or secured.
  • Never access a website from a link in a suspicious email.
  • Access online financial sites by typing the address directly into the browser's address bar instead of clicking the link. It is recommended that once you've typed the address into your browser that you bookmark the site. By doing this you can reference the bookmark the next time you need to login to the site without retyping the address into your browser.
  • Think before you click. Be cautious about clicking on links, especially in emails, and be sure they link to a trusted website. Get in the habit of hovering over links to see the underlying Web address. If you're unsure about a link, you can go to the firm's website by typing the correct address in your Web browser.

When buying online, look for online merchants who are members of a seal-of-approval program that sets voluntary guidelines for privacy-related practices, such as TRUSTe, Verisign, or BBBonline.

  • Be extremely cautious when using public computers to access financial and other sensitive personal information online. If possible, instead use only known devices, such as your own personal computer which you know has the necessary protections and security features installed.
  • Do not save private information onto public computers. If you're accessing a private account at the library or another public place, be sure to sign out completely from your accounts and don't auto save sign-in information like your username or password.
  • Be wireless-wise. Don't use public Wi-Fi to access websites with sensitive information such as financial records, banking transactions, business-related documents, or other personal information. When setting up your home network, follow the manufacturer's security recommendations to be sure your wireless signal is properly encrypted.
  • Be cautious of clickable advertisements, pop-up windows, or fake dialogue boxes with urgent messages. These are often tactics that fraudsters use to try and access and steal your personal information.
  • Do not give out personal information to blogs, forums, and other social networking sites.
  • Beware phishing attempts and unsolicited requests; these don't just happen via email. They can also arrive via social media. Be suspicious of messages or promotions you did not sign up to receive.
  • Be careful about what you post personally and professionally - too much information can help scammers reach their goals.
  • Always make sure to log out of the website before you close the window. Online fraud can happen when you move from one website to another without logging out of the previous one. When you are logging into a secure website, do so in a new browser window.

Create a strong password
  • The strongest passwords are long and employ a mix of numbers, upper and lower case letters, and special characters. Passphrases are typically longer than passwords for added security, and contain multiple words that create a phrase.
  • Your password shouldn't contain any personal or easily attainable information, such as your name, your birthday, Social Security number, or wedding anniversary. In addition, don't use a component of your username in your password.
  • Make sure you use different and unique passwords for all of your online accounts. Reusing a single password for multiple websites is never a good idea. If a hacker obtains your password, the first thing he or she is going to do is check whether or not that password works for other websites. It's also a good idea to periodically change your passwords.
  • Do not give out your passwords to anyone, including family members.
  • Remembering a multitude of unique passwords is difficult, and writing them down on paper isn't secure. Consider installing a password manager. A password manager is a software application that helps a user store and organize passwords. The password manager stores the passwords encrypted, requiring the user to create a master password, a single, ideally very strong password which grants the user access to their entire password database.

Stay informed on the latest fraud threats

  • Phishing is a cyber-threat by which individuals send messages to lure personal information (credit card numbers, bank account information, Social Security numbers, passwords, or other sensitive information) from unsuspecting victims. Phishing may occur through fraudulent emails, fake websites, text messages, or direct phone calls claiming to be a financial institution, or another company you have a customer relationship with, asking you for your personal information.
  • SMiShing is the cell phone version of "Phishing". Using fake company e-mails, scammers send text messages that appear to be from well-known companies but contain links to counterfeit Web pages that have been made to look nearly identical to legitimate companies' sites. The text messages suggest that there is an urgent need for you to take action to update personal information to avoid an unwanted service charge or another potential threat to your account. The Web sites then ask you to enter financial and personal information - like user IDs, Social Security numbers, bank or credit card account numbers.
  • Malware, short for "malicious software," includes viruses and spyware. These are small software applications which can be installed on your computer, phone, or mobile device without your consent. Malware is used to steal your personal information, send spam, and commit fraud. Without your consent it can download itself during a transaction via your online session and attempt to steal your sensitive data.
  • Many legitimate charities use telemarketing, direct mail, e-mail, and online ads to ask for contributions. However, following major disasters, scammers send e-mail purporting to be from a charitable organization, urging consumers to follow a link and donate or even send cash. E-mail may also come from individuals claiming to be a victim asking for a donation.

Criminals are using new schemes that incorporate old techniques to try to trick people to provide personal information or account details. These social engineering attempts include use of sophisticated email and text messages appearing to be from legitimate sources and phone calls appearing to be from authentic individuals or service providers, etc. Carefully scrutinize any requests to divulge personal or account details. Understand your surroundings and be wary of those watching and listening. If you can't verify a request or confirm that it is authentic, take the utmost caution in releasing any information.