5 Tips to Keep Your Payment Info Safe Online

Confession: I am terrible at online security. A few months ago our IT person sent out an e-mail with a suspicious link to test our staff and I was the only person who clicked on it. Unless I’m forced to change it, I use the same password for everything. I can’t remember passwords with numbers so the ones I think up are usually based on my fangirling habits. A few years ago my supervisor needed my password to my computer at work and I replied, “It will be easier if I spell it out for you. T-A-Y-L-O-R-L-A-U-T-N-E-R.” She paused for a moment, then laughed and asked, “Is your password ‘Taylor Lautner?’ Like the kid from Twilight?” Yes. Yes, it was.

TayLat

I definitely had a poster of this photo in college. So classic.

BUT, I recently attended a training on fraud prevention and I am proud to say that I am stepping up my online security game. No longer will you be able to access my online information just because you know my favorite member of 5 Seconds of Summer! Online security is becoming more and more important because, as physical debit card fraud prevention improves, online payment fraud is increasing. EMV chip cards are making it harder for fraudsters to make a physical replica of your debit card. So instead they are finding ways to access your card or account number online. I learned some really great tips to help keep your payment information safe from internet fraud. Here they are:

  1. Don’t save payment information online. It can be super convenient to save your debit card or account number on websites you use frequently. But unfortunately doing so also makes it super convenient for anyone who hacks your account to go on an Amazon.com shopping spree with your money. It only takes a few extra minutes to enter your debit card number each time you pay online, but it significantly decreases the chances that a fraudster can get your info.
  1. Always use a strong password. Note: “taylorlautner” does not qualify as a strong password, no matter how muscular he was in that movie. A password is considered strong if it includes the following: at least 6 letters (1 uppercase), at least 1 number, and at least 1 special character (@, $, %, etc.). Your password should never include your DOB, phone #, SSN, name or the same info for anyone close to you (significant other, children, etc.). It’s too easy for hackers to figure out.
  1. Do NOT use the same password for multiple websites. Because if I’m a hacker who has one of your passwords, now I have them all. I can log into your online banking account, your Amazon.com account, your student loan account . . . this list goes on and on. Think of how many online accounts you have. Worried that you won’t be able to remember passwords because they’re too complicated and you have too many? Try a password management tool like lastpass.com. You just have to remember one master password and it will remember the other ones for you.
  1. Do NOT log in to websites with payment information while on free public Wi-Fi. You never know who might be lurking in wait on the free Wi-Fi at Starbucks. And if you log into a site with payment information while on that public Wi-Fi, you’re opening the door for hackers to steal it. Free Wi-Fi is great for YouTube videos or games, just don’t use it to log into your Sallie Mae payment center. If you’re in a public space and have to access a site with payment info, use data instead of Wi-Fi. Yes, it’s more expensive. But it’s also secure.
  1. Always use a passcode, fingerprint ID, or swipe pattern for smart phones and/or tablets. Change your passcode or swipe pattern every 3 months. Let’s be honest, my whole life is on my smart phone. And yours probably is, too. From my phone I can access all of my money, I can pay for gas, or I can get an Uber. There’s a ton of ways I can pay for things right from my mobile device, not to mention an endless amount of personal information stored on it. If I don’t have a passcode I am giving anyone who can get their hands on my phone an invitation to use that information. Just take the swimmer-selfies on my phone as evidence (because you can still use the camera on an iPhone even if it’s locked) that people will pick up any phone they find lying around and use it. So keep it safe.
Swimmers

See what I mean?

Is online fraud 100% preventable? No way. But taking the 5 steps makes you way less vulnerable to potential attacks. Stay safe internet friends!

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Free Tax Prep at CA$H Maine

Taxes . . . dun dun dun . . .

If just hearing the word made you cringe, fear not! I’m here to help. Income tax preparation is an intimidating thing for most people. Unless you’re an account or some sort of math wizard, you probably have to make the choice between trying to do your own taxes (and possibly drowning in paperwork in the attempt) or paying a professional to do them for you. Neither option really seems that appealing to me.

CA$H Maine

That’s where CA$H Maine comes in to save the day! CA$H is a non-profit organization that works to improve financial stability in our state. One of the many services they provide is free federal and state income tax preparation. There are 42 CA$H Maine tax sites statewide. If you, or your household, made $54,000 or less in 2015, you should consider getting your taxes done at CA$H this season. Here’s 5 reason why:

  1. It’s FREE! Paid preparers give you peace of mind that your taxes will be done correctly. But they can also be expensive. The average American spends around $261 each year on tax prep. CA$H Maine is providing the same service 100% free of charge. No fees. There may be no such thing as a free lunch, but thanks to CA$H Maine there is free tax preparation.
  2. You get professional help from an IRS-certified volunteer. All CA$H Maine volunteer tax preparers are IRS-certified. They go through extensive in person and online training prior to working at a tax site. By the time they meet with you, they know all the ins and outs of this year’s tax forms. It’s professional grade assistance without the price tag.
  3. It’s safe and secure. Tax filing involves a lot of personal information, including social security numbers, salaries, and insurance data. You don’t want to share that info with just anybody. But CA$H Maine tax sites have procedures in place to make sure that your info stays safe. No security concerns here!
  4. There’s friendly faces with great asset-building advice. The volunteers at CA$H Maine are the best. They’re helpful and friendly. Plus they’re trained not only in tax preparation, but in how to connect you with other financial resources in your community. So if have you have a question about how to improve your credit score or how you can get help heating your home this winter, CA$H volunteers can help.
  5. Did I mention it’s FREE?! That’s amazing. When was the last time you got something for free? Since 2004 CA$H Greater Portland has helped 6,552 individuals and families file their taxes for free. That’s saved our community roughly $1.2 million in preparation fees. And that’s just in Greater Portland! Why wouldn’t you take advantage of a service that saves you that much money?

One final tip – check out CA$H Maine’s “Do-It-Yourself” option. If your individual or combined household income for 2015 is $62,000 or less you can file your federal and state income taxes for free online! Visit myfreetaxes.com to learn how. I used myfreetaxes.com last year to file my taxes and it was great. If I can figure it out, anyone can.

Happy Tax Season!