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5 of the Best Ways to Protect Your Money, IRL

Cybersecurity concerns tend to steal the headlines, but you still need to protect your finances from real-life theft. Here are five of the best ways to do it.

October 14, 2021

Cybersecurity has become a mainstream issue in recent years, and for good reason. In 2021, a report showed that the average cost of a data breach is a whopping $4.2 million. 

Thieves don’t have to use a high-tech credit card hack to steal your money, though. There are just as many ways for scam artists to get hold of your data in real life.

Even if you already know how to protect your data and identity online, you should know how to guard yourself against in-person attacks. Here are five of the best ways to protect your money from thieves who try to steal from you with more direct techniques.

1. Mind your wallet

The primary obstacle to stealing someone’s information through physical means is that it’s usually locked up in some semi-secure location. You may have it in a safe at home — or if you don’t — your sensitive documents are at least behind closed and locked doors.

Unless, of course, you’re carrying them around in your pocket everywhere you go. While it’s not exactly easy to pick someone’s pocket, it can happen.

Thefts are even more likely if you have a habit of leaving your wallet in your car. There were a whopping 1,121,083 instances of theft from a motor vehicle in 2019, in the U.S.

If someone gains access to your wallet these days, it usually means more than a loss of whatever cash you had on hand. Thieves can use credit and debit cards to steal money from your bank accounts or use the information on your driver’s license to open new accounts.

Take steps to protect your wallet or purse. Here are some of the best ways to protect your money when its out of the house:

  • Downsize what you carry to minimize potential losses

  • Be extra careful in crowded spaces

  • Practice safe storage — don’t leave anything unattended or in your car

You may have heard that pickpockets use radio-frequency identification (RFID) technology to scan your wallet from afar, but this is a relatively rare phenomenon. Prioritize keeping physical control of your belongings in public.

2. Work from the office or at home

Working from a coffee shop has become a common occurrence in modern America. Many of us like a latte and a more public atmosphere while we send out emails or wrap up a project.

Unfortunately, working in a public place often requires connecting your device to public Wi-Fi, which makes you especially vulnerable to hackers. Whenever possible, try to work from somewhere with a secure connection like your home or the office.

If you must work in a public location, consider investing in a virtual private network (VPN) to protect yourself from digital attacks.

3. Watch out for ATM-skimming devices

One of the more common ways that thieves steal data in person these days is with an ATM-skimming device. These attach to an ATM or gas pump and download your card data when you swipe to check out.

Skimmers generally go on top of the existing point-of-sale system and can be tough to spot, but you should always check for:

  • An overly stiff PIN keypad

  • Raised or loose-fitting attachments

  • Sticky residue or other signs of tampering

Thieves frequently attach these devices to keyboards and card insert slots. When in doubt, compare your interface’s appearance to other interfaces around you, especially at gas stations where these devices are particularly common.

There also may be cameras set up to capture your PIN as you enter it, so be sure to cover up when you type.

4. Secure your mail deliveries

Have you ever gotten a notification that your Amazon package was delivered only to come home and find an empty porch? If so, you know the frustration that is mail theft. Unfortunately, it’s a common problem in America.

While it might not be the end of the world if someone takes that new shirt you bought, it’s much more significant if they steal correspondence that contains sensitive information.

To limit the exposure you have in the event of mail theft, consider taking the following steps:

  • Sign up for electronic delivery whenever possible

  • Set up security cameras to monitor your front door and mail area

  • Lock your mailbox so deliveries can be deposited, but a key is necessary to retrieve them

If you’re going to be out of town for an extended period, plan in advance and protect yourself. Request a hold on your deliveries at the local post office or ask a trusted neighbor to retrieve mail for you.

5. Dispose of sensitive documents carefully

Though you probably don’t think about your trash much after it leaves your house, it doesn’t disappear from existence once you throw it in the bin; it’s just out on the street, where anyone can access it.

Think about all the things people dispose of daily:

  • Bills with names, addresses, usage details and account numbers

  • Personal correspondence with family and friends

  • Invitations to events that give insight into your comings and goings

If you dispose of sensitive documents simply by throwing them in the trash, you leave yourself vulnerable to dumpster-diving thieves. If you think thieves wouldn’t resort to such methods, you’d be mistaken.

Consider investing in a shredder to render your documents unrecognizable before throwing them away.

Report security breaches immediately

If you lose your wallet, fall victim to a scam or suffer any other kind of data security breach, take action immediately. There’s no end to the damage a scammer can do with your financial information.

First, report the incident to your bank or credit card issuers to minimize monetary damages — most financial institutions make this pretty easy to do these days. If the theft occurs after business hours, you might still be able to lock a card online by yourself.

Second, if applicable, report the incident to the proper authorities. If someone stole your wallet, local authorities might be able to get it back. If you were a scam victim, the Federal Trade Commission can publicize the strategy and help others avoid it.

Either way, don’t wait. With so many ways for thieves to steal money from your bank accounts or get hold of important data to open new accounts, the sooner you take action, the better off you’ll be.

If you’re still trying to coordinate your credit card bills through paper mail, it’s time to sign up for electronic delivery. Even better, sign up for Tally† to help you manage all of them through one convenient app.

​​†To get the benefits of a Tally line of credit, you must qualify for and accept a Tally line of credit. The APR (which is the same as your interest rate) will be between 7.90% and 29.99% per year and will be based on your credit history. The APR will vary with the market based on the Prime Rate. Annual fees range from $0 - $300.