Columnist image
Pattie Lovett-Reid

Chief Financial Commentator, CTV


Given the recent warnings from Simplii Financial, CIBC’s direct banking unit, and BMO about potential data breaches, you have to wonder what you can do to protect yourself. The fact is you are always going to be vulnerable if there is weakness on the server your accounts are associated with. Hackers can and likely always will be able to hack a system.

In an effort to try and protect yourself, here are a few precautions you can take:

1. Review your financial documents/accounts regularly. Check your credit cards thoroughly, review yours bills and question any unauthorized purchases or transactions. Simplii advises customers who notice unusual activity to contact the institution, and said it would return 100 per cent of money lost from the affected bank account to fraud victims.

2. Set up real-time alerts. Most financial institutions offer real-time notification services that allow them to contact you in the event of a purchase or attempt considered to be unusual. You can put limits in place and chose how to be notified – email, text, or call to validate.

3. Change your passwords monthly. Creating strong passwords is important. Coming up with obvious passwords such as your birthdate or initials do not pass muster. Studies have shown that more than 50 per cent of Internet users use weak passwords.  If you create passwords using your address, birthday or phone number, and this information is acquired via cyber theft, all of your personal data becomes vulnerable.  Be creative and make your passwords complex by using a random combination of letters, numbers and symbols that have no connection to you or your family. Some recommend a short sentence (for example: the sun is shining).

4. Keep your private information private. Don't share your passwords with family members and pay close attention to what sort of information you give out over the phone or online. A simple rule: do not provide your passwords or personal information to unsolicited callers. When searching new websites, to ensure its security, make sure there is a closed lock symbol at the bottom right of the screen.  Web addresses that begin with “https” are generally secure, and if you click on the lock symbol on the bottom right, it will display the same “https” address.

5. Subscribe to identity protection. What the bad guys' malware does is sneak into private files, grab your credit card and personal information and sneak out. There are numerous identity protection companies who will monitor your credit cards, and other data often for a fee. You can explore options via TransUnion or Equifax.