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Ask the expert: How do I protect against financial information theft?

July 14, 2011

By Richard Barrington | MoneyRates.com Senior Financial Analyst, CFA

Q: I've just been reading about the massive security breach at Citi bank. As a customer, how can I keep my information safe in this digital age?

A: Digital security is a huge issue which the banking industry is far from mastering. According to the New York Times, there have been some 288 reported security breaches at financial services companies in the past six years, involving the records of 83 million customers. Since there are roughly 235 million adults in the U.S., that means there is roughly a one in three chance that you've been affected by a financial security breach in the last six years.

Your financial information can be stolen from two places - from you, or your financial institution. You can guard against having information stolen from you by keeping password and account information completely secure and confidential. Also, avoid accessing your financial information in public places or via an unsecured network. With the rise of mobile banking, it is more tempting than ever to access an account on the fly, but never let convenience get in the way of security.

Of course, you can do all the right things about security only to find that information has been stolen from your financial institution. Some of the biggest names in the business have been affected by information theft, so there is no telling where it will strike next. The best defense is to keep a close eye on the activity and balances of your accounts. Checking accounts and credit cards may be the most vulnerable to fraud because they are so transactions-oriented, but don't neglect to keep an eye on less active accounts, such as savings accounts, money market accounts, or CDs, to make sure there haven't been unauthorized withdrawals.

Until banks learn how to stop security breaches, the best defense is being ready to spot them as soon as they occur.

Got a financial question about saving, investing, or banking? MoneyRates.com invites you to submit your questions to the "Ask the Expert" feature. Just go to the MoneyRates.com home page and look for the "Ask the Expert" box on the lower left.

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