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7 ways to avoid getting hacked

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Don't underestimate the power of a strong password.

Hackers can wreak havoc on your personal lives (and your credit scores). It can take years to untangle the mess of identity theft or fraud. That’s why the Department of Homeland Security has declared October as Cyber-Security Month.

Kyle Welsh, Vice President of Information Security at BECU, shares seven tips to defeat hackers once and for all.

1. Protect your passwords. Don’t underestimate the power of a strong password and username!

Think of your passwords like a toothbrush:

  • Change them frequently.
  • Don’t share them.
  • Don’t leave them lying around.
  • The longer you brush, the better.

Use a combination of numbers, special characters, lowercase, and capital letters to create passwords that are at least 12 characters long. Welsh recommends using passphrases – a string of words that have meaning to you but will create a long password (such as Hackers1sUnder@ppreci@ted).

Don’t use your email address for your username – it’s too easy to find your email on the Internet, and then hackers have half the equation. And try to use separate passwords for every account.

2. Utilize password managers. Remembering super long passwords for all of your accounts can be tricky. Welsh recommends using a password manager like LastPass or Dashlane. The manager remembers all of your passwords and stores them securely in the Cloud. The only password you need to remember is your log-in to the password manager!

3. Keep tabs on your information. Think you’re a victim? Here are a few signs you’ve been hacked:

  • You have programs that suddenly don’t work
  • New files have appeared, or files you didn’t delete are now missing.
  • You have new programs or internet browser toolbars.
  • Random, frequent pop-ups appear
  • People in your email contacts are getting fake messages from you.
  • Money is missing from your bank account, or you’re getting bills to pay for online purchases you didn’t make.

If you suspect you’ve been hacked, go to the website haveibeenpwned.com, and enter your email address and any usernames you use. This free service will tell you if you’ve been hacked. It’s a good source. Walsh recommends it to BECU employees.

4. Be prepared. If you were hacked, don’t throw your computer across the room. Instead, follow these steps:

  • Disconnect from the internet.
  • Get a computer savvy friend to assist if needed.
  • Run a complete scan with an anti-virus/spyware scanner you trust.
  • Contact your financial institution and credit card companies to alert them to a potential issue.

5. Check your social media settings. Social media has made it much easier to steal people’s identities. Check your settings to make sure only friends can see what you post, or at most friends of friends. And be careful with what you share online—don’t post when you’re going to be traveling, don’t share your address, don’t make your email public, and don’t take pictures with sensitive information in them. And set good passwords!

6. Be wary of public Wi-Fi. Assume that other people can see everything you do on public or free Wi-Fi. Refrain from conducting sensitive activities such as online banking or shopping. If you are browsing, make sure the websites you’re using are encrypted. Encrypted sites have URLs that begin with https: the “s” stands for secure.

7. Review mobile banking apps. Mobile banking is safe if you’re using a legitimate app provided by your financial institution. Anyone can develop an app with no safety evaluation, and many are malicious. The Apple store verifies apps and eliminates ones that aren’t legitimate. But Android and Windows don’t have the same system in place.

Check to see how many reviews an app has. Not what the rating is, but rather how many people have reviewed it. The more, the better.

Want to fight fraud? Check out one of BECU and AARP’s free mobile shredding trucks.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing white collar crimes in the U.S. In fact, 16.7 million Americans were the victims of identity theft in 2017, which is an 8% increase over the prior year. That’s why BECU and AARP invite you to bring your documents containing your personal information to our mobile shredding trucks for free disposal.

Safely destroy documents containing sensitive and personal information, as well as e-cycle unwanted TVs, computers, computer monitors, laptops and cell phones all for free on Saturday, October 20 from 9:00am to 1:00pm.

Shredding and e-cycle locations will be available in Tukwila, Everett, Federal Way, and Spokane. Locations include:

Tukwila, Everett and Federal Way

BECU Tukwila Financial Center

12770 Gateway Drive, Tukwila, WA 98168

Everett Mall

1402 SE Everett Mall Way, Everett, WA 98208

(North end of the mall)

BECU Federal Way Pavilions Neighborhood Financial Center

31411 Pacific Hwy S, Federal Way, WA 98003

Spokane Locations

North Town Mall

4750 North Division Street

Spokane, WA 99207

Spokane Valley Mall

14700 East Indiana Avenue

Spokane Valley, WA 99216

Locations will be open Saturday, Oct. 20, from 9 am – 1 pm, or until trucks are full. Bring up to three grocery bags or two banker’s boxes of sensitive information to destroy. The events are free and open to the public. While you're packing up the car, grab non-perishable goods and help us support local food banks.

For more information about the shredding and e-cycling events, visit www.becu.org/shred

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