Broker Check

Protect Your Data and Yourself Around the Holidays

November 22, 2016

With the holidays on the horizon, you might be considering shopping online and traveling. We all know that hackers are on the prowl day and night these days, especially as more and more of our information is uploaded to the cloud and streamed across the internet.

Here are some tips for you to consider to protect yourself and your data:

If you are not expecting a package or have not ordered anything recently, do not open e-mails about deliveries. Hackers design messages like these to entice you to open the e-mail, which is actually a source of attack - allowing the hacker to corrupt your system, steal account information, or steal your identity.

Do not open any attachments or click on links in e-mails from anyone you don’t know, or e-mails you aren’t expecting. Instead, go directly to the company’s website (i.e. your bank, UPS, FedEx, the retailer) and type in the code to determine if it’s a valid e-mail.

If you open what appears to be a familiar e-mail and the grammar or wording seems slightly “off,” close the e-mail and call the sender. She will want to know that her computer has been hacked, if it is indeed from a hacker. The earlier she gets this information, the better.

Don’t shop from an open wi-fi source, such as in an airplane, hotel, or cafe. (For good measure, don’t access or provide any of your personal information on a public wi-fi system.)

Review your account statements at least weekly, but preferably daily during the holidays. Also, look for small random charges. I once received an unexpected $10 charge from a popular online shoe retailer that I don’t use. I contacted my credit card company, and they cancelled my card immediately. Apparently the $10 charge was a test for the hackers before trying to get away with bigger charges.

For your upcoming trips, consider this:

Separate some of your travel funds, meaning cash and credit cards. Stow a credit card in your luggage in the event that your carry-on is stolen. And then make sure to keep your carry-on with you at all times as you move through airports and hotel lobbies.

Leave a copy of key documents with a family member, friend, or professional. Some of our clients use the secure online vault that we provide for copies of their credit cards and passports when they travel abroad.

If you are traveling outside the US, especially to a country that has experienced dangerous activity, visit the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program at to learn about concerns in your destination country and to enroll with the local US Embassy.

We recently met with clients who are extremely well-traveled and extremely skilled in IT and computers. They had been on a multi-week road trip and were stopping for a quick lunch before getting on a cruise ship. The back of their car was packed to maximum capacity, so they left the well-organized computer bag - also packed to capacity - in the front. Thieves smashed the window and grabbed the bag. Since my clients are savvy, they were able to disable the devices from their phones just in time as they were pulling out of port and losing connectivity. After a debrief with them on how they will prevent or prepare for something like this in the future, here are some additional tips:

Pay extra attention in tourist areas. Thieves know you are thinking of other things and out of your routine, and they will take advantage of it.

Never leave anything visible in your car. Thieves don’t know if your bag contains cash and computers or soccer socks, but they will smash your window to find out.

Back up your computer before you travel anywhere with it. You can back up to the cloud, an external hard drive, a thumb drive, or even another computer. It may seem like “one more thing to do” as you get ready for your trip, but you will be grateful for it if your computer is stolen.

Take the time to set up the systems on all of your devices so you can disable them quickly if they are stolen. This is easier on some devices than others, but it is smart to set these systems up as soon as you buy a new one.

Take pictures of your expensive jewelry if it is covered by insurance and you hope to be reimbursed for it. Your insurance provider can’t just take your word that someone stole your most prized necklace. Document your jewelry with receipts, a picture of it on its own, and a picture of it on you.

Keep your passport on you or with you when you travel. If my clients had tucked their passports in their computer bag, they would have had much bigger problems and would not have been able to go on their trip at all.

Once you have protective systems in place, enjoy your holidays!