Many people have had to endure the painful experience of being victims of fraud or identity theft, in which personal documents are stolen and the data is used fraudulently.
Your financial information is very personal and you should try to maintain the utmost level of confidentiality to protect yourself and your personal finances. In today’s “virtual” world, we are much more vulnerable than ever and must be more vigilant in safeguarding our finances. Ask yourself these questions to see how secure your personal financial information is.
Are your sensitive documents kept securely?
We all have some particularly important personal documents such as an international passport, birth certificate, title documents, investment certificates, educational certificates, NYSC certificate and your marriage license. Don’t leave such documents lying around in shoe boxes at the bottom of your wardrobe for an unscrupulous housekeeper to rifle through whilst you are out at work.
Ideally, the original documents should be locked away securely in a sturdy fireproof filing cabinet or a small fireproof safe. It is important to protect them from the risk of fire, flood or other disasters. Retain scanned electronic copies in a secure folder on your computer. Make a list of the contents and make copies to be kept with your lawyer or other reliable family member or friend.
Do you have a shredder?
When your refuse is collected, you don’t know exactly where it ends up. Be conscious of how you dispose of financial documents that you no longer need. It is not enough to just casually discard old financial statements; they can become prime targets for thieves. With a shredder you can effectively destroy such documents rather than simply tearing them up. With about N15,000 you can buy a basic shredder for home use.
Are your devices password protected?
If your password or PIN [Personal Identification Number] is compromised, this could lead to devastating losses should unscrupulous people gain access to your accounts or other important documents. Do not share your passwords or PINs with anyone. If you think you might forget them and need to write them down, then store them in a secure place but avoid storing them on your computer.
Change your passwords and PINS periodically and use different codes for different accounts. Your birthday or family names and birthdays are very easy to decipher so avoid using these. Make an effort to be creative about your choice of passwords and PIN numbers. Your smartphones and your computer should all be kept secure with passwords.
In addition, secure your computer with a firewall and security software packages that have anti-virus and anti-spam features that will be upgraded periodically.
Even your old computer that you no longer use can end up causing problems for you. Before throwing or giving away your old computer, ensure that you have totally erased sensitive information and that it is truly deleted. There are IT specialists that can help you with this if you are unsure of how to go about it. Choose someone you can trust!
Ignore requests for personal information
We have all at one time or other received phone calls or emails requesting for sensitive information. Your bank and other legitimate companies will never request for sensitive information such as passwords and PINs by email; these are usually fraudsters attempting to defraud you. Do not respond to such email requests. Contact your bank directly and report such incidents.
Do you read your bank statements?
You should try to ensure that the transactions reflected are indeed the ones that you actually authorised. If you spot an error that you cannot explain, contact your bankers immediately to report this. Similarly, if you do not recognise some of the shops and locations, or some of the purchases reflected on your credit card statement, inform your bankers, so they can secure your card and investigate.
Do you use public computers for your transactions?
It is generally safer to use your own computer for your financial transactions. When you are at an airport or in a business centre or internet cafe, avoid using public computers for sensitive transactions as your information could be compromised.
If you do use a public computer, be sure to clear your “history” before you log out otherwise other users might be able to access your account and other information. Free wireless internet “hotspots” are often not at all secure, and your information can be intercepted.
Use only secure websites for your transactions. You will notice that the address of a secure website starts with “https” instead of just “http” and has a key or closed padlock in the status bar.
Is your personal information out there on social media?
In our world of social media with Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, it seems so natural to put seemingly innocent but revealing information about yourself and your family out there. Geo-tagged photos inform people exactly where you are. With every image posted, there are possible dangers of giving too much information that could expose you and your family to crime.
Have you enrolled for the Bank Verification Number (BVN)?
In February 2014, The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) in collaboration with all Nigerian Banks, introduced the Bank Verification Number (BVN). All bank customers in Lagos have been advised to enrol and obtain their BVN, which is a unique identification number, before June 2015. A bank customer’s BVN gives them a unique identity that can be used for easy identification and verification of bank customers.
The Enrolment Process is simple. At the point of enrolment, which is any of the selected bank branches, you are required to submit an acceptable means of identification, and update your information by completing and submitting the BVN Enrolment Form. Your physical presence is required for data capturing such as your fingerprint, facial image etc.
Thereafter, an acknowledgment slip with the transaction ID will be issued to you. Within 24 hours, the system confirms the enrolment and a unique BVN is generated. You will receive an SMS notification with the BVN. This enrolment process needs to be done only once, and your BVN will be linked to all your bank accounts in the Nigerian banking industry.
According to the CBN, “The BVN solution is to ensure accountability, protect Bank customers’ account from unauthorised access, reduce exposure to fraud, check identity theft, enhance credit advancement to Bank customers, and also encourage financial inclusion.”
This initiative addresses issues of identity theft and ensures that your bank accounts are protected from unauthorised access, thus reducing your exposure to fraud. It is expected to promote a safe and sound financial system in Nigeria, especially as it will keep records of suspected fraudulent individuals in the banking system.
The regulator has urged all bank customers to register for their BVN by June 2015, warning that any bank customer without a BVN would be deemed to have inadequate know-your-customers (KYC) by that date. This will make it very difficult for bank customers without a BVN to access their bank accounts. Make sure you have you BVN before the deadline.
There is no guarantee that your financial information will be completely safe even if you put all these measures in place. However, you certainly stand a better chance of limiting access to sensitive information and protecting your personal finances from fraudsters.