One afternoon, Kristen’s 12-year old son Max and his friends downloaded a free app from an unsecured and unregulated site that led him to add special effects to their selfies. Problem was, this app contained a virus. When Max connected his phone on his home network, the virus was able to connect to other devices on the network and search for valuable financial data.

Sadly, there was lots to find. Kristen, like many of us, used her email folders as a kind of filing cabinet. Her email contained all sorts of sensitive information, including banking information that the cybercriminals were able to use to commit fraud.

Kristen discovered she’d been hacked after $10K had disappeared from personal accounts. The unexplained withdrawal was the first sign of trouble. She immediately contacted the various banks where money was missing, but the fraudsters had already transferred the money out of the country.

Cybercriminals are increasingly sophisticated and their full-time job is to steal from you. But there is much you can do to protect yourself. October is Cybersecurity Awareness Month, an ideal time to strengthen your cyber defenses.

Here’s where you can start:

Clean house

Because most hackers work by infecting devices with malware through rogue apps and downloaded files, the first step to securing your digital presence is a good cleanse. Get everyone in the family to do the same.

How to declutter and clean your devices:

  • Get rid of apps you’re not using, which will help save space while keeping your phone more secure.
  • Purge digital files from your “download folder” and “recycle bin,” which may hold sensitive information. Review and empty the trash on all devices.
  • Unsubscribe from emails and newsletters via your email provider, which reduces the risk of clicking on malware links. Most reputable email providers have the ability to unsubscribe on your behalf.
  • Download and archive the emails you want to save, and delete the emails you don’t need — including sent items.

Protect your devices

Make sure you and everyone in the family take advantage of reliable protections on the market:

  • Install a mobile security software, such as Lookout, to help keep your mobile device more secure.
  • Stay up to date. Providers regularly issue updates to keep you more secure. Update your anti-virus software and operating system on all your devices, including laptops, PCs, and yes, even all Apple devices to keep your information more secure.
  • Encrypt files on your laptop or PC, so that no one can easily access information without your permission.

To further avoid being the target of fraud, be mindful of what information is posted online about you and your family.

Be more anonymous online

  • Less is more when it comes to social media, as cybercriminals can use what is posted against you. They can target you specifically with the information shared, such as your whereabouts, vacations, hobbies, family pictures, etc. Once a cybercriminal has your information they can potentially access your financial and other accounts.
  • Use different emails for different purposes; separate emails you use for communication and create new ones to log on to sites, receive receipts, and newsletters.
  • Own your online presence; review the privacy and security settings on your mobile devices, apps, web browsers, etc. and ensure they’re at your comfort level for sharing. Limit how and with whom you share information, and check that apps are only accessing information they need.
  • Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) if you have to use public/travel/hotel WiFi to help keep your information out of the hand of cybercriminals.

Strengthen your defenses

  • Download apps only from official sites, such as the Apple App Store and Google Play. Let your children know the dangers that rogue apps pose to the entire family. 
  • Strengthen all passwords; use numbers, letters and special characters; use a phrase, a song title or something not easily guessed by hackers. It is important to use different passwords on different sites. Consider using a reputable password manager to help you manage all your passwords easily and safely.
  • Use two-factor authentication wherever offered, such as with email providers, social media, banking sites and retail providers, to protect yourself from an account takeover.
  • Sign up for alerts to make you aware of potential compromise or misuse of your information and accounts
  • Freeze your credit in the United States with the three major credit agencies to prevent anyone from opening new financial accounts in your name.
  • Verify, verify, verify. Whether it appears to be an email from someone you know, a report or invoice you were expecting, or a call from a known vendor, you should remain cautious. Call the sender via a known or trusted phone number to validate authenticity.

We can help

Cybersecurity is a key concern for J.P. Morgan; we are dedicated to protecting your financial life. J.P. Morgan has a variety of educational services to help you take the next step in becoming more cyber secure. Reach out to your J.P. Morgan representative to learn more about how we can help you.