Fight cyber crime with cyber smarts

As October marks Cyber Security Month, many consumers may be asking themselves, why do I care about cyber security? The truth is … you should, because it’s about protecting your financial, medical and other personal information. Every month the FBI-affiliated Internet Crime Complaint Center receives 25,000 complaints, from identity theft to online scams, and everyone is a potential victim. But you can take action. Financial services companies, top targets for cyber attacks, are fighting back to protect consumers and are encouraging consumers to join in the fight.

Cyber criminals often target consumers who are least protected. Gary McAlum, chief security officer at USAA, a leading financial services provider that serves members of the military and their families, offers five simple tips that will help every consumer be less attractive to a cyber criminal and ultimately be better protected against cyber attacks.

1. Put up a strong fence

The “fundamental three” of computer security consists of a firewall, anti-malware software and automatic updates. Chances are you already have these installed on your machine. Modern computers and routers have firewalls built in, and you can download a reputable anti-malware program online, often for free. Cyber criminals are constantly advancing their techniques and their abilities, so updating your protection software is critical to keeping your wall strong. Do your research before downloading any programs from the Internet. Some viruses are disguised as anti-malware programs.

2. Get complicated

Passwords are the first line of defense to protect your sensitive information from getting into the wrong hands. Whenever money is involved, toughen up. If a hacker gets your email password, what’s the next stop? Your bank. Take extra care with your financial account passwords. Do not use simple words or anything like your last name or a pet’s name. Incorporate numbers and special characters, and change passwords every six months.

3. Authenticate your devices

Companies are employing new tools to make their website more secure. In fact, a new breed of website security adds an extra layer of protection beyond usernames and passwords by registering your computer and/or smartphone’s unique thumbprint when you first login. Why? The website is more confident it’s you doing the driving instead of a cyber-thief. If the site detects a computer you don’t normally use, expect extra questions to prove your identity.

Want to get proactive? Check with your financial institution to see if they offer tools to help you protect yourself. USAA offers an additional protection mechanism, called CyberCode, in case your username, password, and PIN get into the wrong hands. Easily installed on any smart phone, this app sends members a new, randomly generated code right to their phone that they must use to access their accounts.

4. Be alert

Most credit card issuers allow you set parameters so your provider can send you a text message or email if a large charge hits your card. For example, USAA has a two-way, instant text system that will allow you to confirm any purchase while you’re at the checkout register – or if it’s not your purchase, you can deny it instantly. Also be sure to review your statements for abnormal activity.

5. Be suspicious

Most people get scammed by offering too much personal information. Cyber criminals may try to disguise themselves as trusted entities. Be wary, and don’t give away your password or credit card number if you’re contacted by anyone posing as your financial institution. Even if an email or a phone call appears to be legit, be suspicious. Remember, no legitimate financial institution will ask you to provide personal or financial information in response to an email. In fact, USAA has developed an email system called “Security Zone” that ensures each email is tagged with each member’s unique identification information, so people can have confidence that these emails are in fact from USAA.

Cyber crime is prevalent, and the perpetrators are constantly improving their techniques. By following these steps, you will be better equipped to help combat potential attacks. For more information about how to protect yourself from cyber crime, visit the Security and Privacy Center on