Data Security Plays an Important Role in Wealth Preservation

Josh Miller, CFP®
October 05, 2017

What does it say about data security in the digital age when a company in the business of handling the most sensitive personal financial data suffers a hack of such magnitude?

On Sept. 7, credit reporting giant Equifax announced a data breach said to affect as many as 143 million Americans. That’s not the first time the company has reported an attack from hackers. What does it say about data security in the digital age when a company in the business of handling the most sensitive personal financial data suffers a hack of such magnitude?

What it says is that no one is immune from attack, and it’s vital to take steps to protect your personal data and keep your digital, as well as financial, assets safe from predators. You can take a variety of measures to lessen your risk, but first make sure you’re safe from the Equifax threat.

First, check to see if you were a victim of the hack. Equifax is offering a free tool that allows you to see if your data was compromised. Just go to their website and enter your last name and a portion of your social security number. If you’ve been exposed, consider putting a fraud alert on your credit report with all of the major credit reporting agencies. This will make it difficult for anyone trying to use your data, as banks and credit card companies will apply additional screens to verify identity. Initial fraud alerts last for 90 days.

When you place a fraud alert, you can order one free credit report from each agency, which you can use to determine if there has been any strange or suspicious activity that you should report. Whether or not there have been attempts to use your data, you always have the option to place a freeze your credit report. When you place a freeze, it becomes much more difficult for identity thieves to open new accounts in your name. In theory, no one, not even you can open new accounts until you unfreeze the account. It may be inconvenient in the short term, but you can have greater confidence that your financial history will be safe.

While these steps address the immediate emergency, the Equifax hack offers a good reminder to review all your cybersecurity measures. There are many precautions you should take to prevent online fraud, financial theft and identity theft and safeguard your digital assets. Here are some important measures you can take to protect sensitive data:

  1. Never access sensitive data or sites on a public computer, such as in a hotel business center or on a public Wi-Fi network.
  2. Install the most up-to-date antivirus and antispyware programs on all of your personal devices and set them to run regularly.
  3. Always log off sites even though you may be timed out.
  4. Keep your software and apps up-to-date. Many updates include security fixes.
  5. Monitor your accounts and review your statements for unusual activity.
  6. Don’t click on links in suspicious emails. If they claim to be from a business, go directly to the company websites.
  7. Avoid sending financial data or personal information to your advisor in an email. Call your advisor directly.
  8. Check your computer’s security settings­—settings can limit your vulnerability to attacks.
  9. Use secure data storage programs for critical data and documents.
  10. Never click links in emails or pop-up ads that warn of a virus infecting your computer.
  11. Utilize a two-step authentication when offered.

Few of these steps are onerous or burdensome, but these security measures can save you from cybercrimes that could cost you time, money, your credit rating or all three.

Learn more about protecting your digital assets, as well as preserving your wealth, in our white paper, “Preserving Family Wealth.”

Talk to your CIBC Atlantic Trust advisor about how you can help preserve and protect your family’s wealth. 

Josh Miller is a managing director and senior wealth strategist in CIBC Atlantic Trust Private Wealth Management's Boston office. Josh has more than 14 years of industry experience, counseling high net worth individuals, corporate executives, closely held business owners and multinationals on sophisticated estate plan designs and strategies. He works directly with clients and their advisors to develop and implement charitable, estate and wealth transfer and management planning as part of CIBC Atlantic Trust's integrated wealth management process.