When It Comes to Security, Consumers Must Show Vigilance

Over the past several years, talks of data breaches and consumer scams have plastered the news. Whether it’s cyber hackers gaining access to Target’s confidential customer information or the State Department’s email breach exposing employees’ personal data, public awareness of the potential dangers lurking inside the cyber sphere has never been greater.

Despite this increasing awareness, many consumers remain in the dark about these types of vulnerabilities or rely solely on the security measures implemented by institutions such as banks, websites, retail stores and health clinics — without knowing that their own choices could put them at risk.

While it’s vital for these organizations to have a “security-first” mentality when it comes their digital transformations by ensuring that every part of a communication string (down to the network and individual session) is encrypted, consumers must also show vigilance when it comes to security — particularly as it relates to web browsing and private data sharing.

As with a bank, credit union or healthcare organization, part of improving consumer engagement and the overall experience involves education. Thus it’s important for all digitally transforming industries to communicate with their consumers regarding best security practices they can employ on their end to ensure that their personal data remains, well, personal.

What follows are three recommendations related to online and digital activity that consumers can leverage, in addition to knowing that their financial institution and healthcare provider have fully encrypted everything on their end:

  1. Regularly Review Personal Statements — Financial, Healthcare and Otherwise

While this strategy may seem simple, the hustle and bustle of everyday life can cause people to neglect checking their bank and credit card statements regularly for any unwarranted transactions.

While many banks allow customers to set up alerts when suspicious withdrawals are made, such security notifications are not 100% foolproof, and it is best for consumers to set reminders for themselves to check-in on their finances every few days. This includes copays for recent trips to the clinic or other healthcare-related financial transactions.

If they do find anything questionable, it’s important for banks and healthcare organizations to inform consumers about the appropriate next steps (i.e., contacting their bank immediately to receive more details about the transaction and freezing the account, if necessary). By empowering consumers to be more vigilant about monitoring their transactions, organizations can add security as another avenue to an improved customer experience.

  1. When in Doubt — Don’t Click

With all the emails consumers receive from different subscriptions they voluntarily (or involuntarily) opt into, it’s easy to open one that looks legitimate (but isn’t) and inadvertently share sensitive information with a hacker. This mentality is exactly what internet phishers exploit to manipulate consumers into clicking on spam links.

Particularly, using emails containing urgent messages stating an account has been compromised is a popular way for scammers to gain attention. Because they can mimic a bank or hospital’s logo and email insignia, and sometimes even their email address, it’s important for these types of institutions to leverage a communication software that doesn’t directly send sensitive patient or customer financial data to a user’s everyday email address. Instead, any and all email communication should occur directly through a user portal, which should also be encrypted.

By communicating this to customers and patients, consumers are less likely to be fooled by these phishing tactics. Banks and hospitals should also let consumers know that if their suspicion is even marginally piqued, they shouldn’t click on any links in the email and avoid sharing any personal information — including passwords, financial details and anything that might be used as an online log-in or security question. If they’re unsure about an email, consumers should have quick access to securely contact the organization (either via phone, text message, web chat or a video appointment) to verify whether the email came from them, and, if it didn’t, delete the email and block the contact.

  1. Stay Up-to-date, But Not Logged-in

Though often the most difficult to implement, this is arguably the most important — reminding consumers to keep their mobile applications and programs up-to-date with the latest operating systems. It’s easy to defer software updates, but because security patches are often released through these updates, neglecting them could leave consumers particularly vulnerable. Turning on update notifications or setting a device to update automatically can alleviate the need to remember this. In addition, creating strong passwords that are altered every few months hinders hackers in their quest to access consumer personal accounts. Reminding consumers of the importance of these security tactics in regular, ongoing communications is a key way to improve the customer experience related to preventative security.

Moreover, while staying up-to-date is critical, not staying perpetually logged into a portal for long periods of time is equally crucial. While remaining logged-in may feel efficient, it is prime ground for “cookie sniffing,” a method hackers use to access consumers’ log-in details by monitoring the web traffic on their computer and extracting vital information. This is also why going into the settings and deleting web browser cookies from time-to-time is also a good habit to maintain.

Following the aforementioned steps can help prevent scammers from taking advantage of consumers as well as ensuring that the user portals, communication sessions and network that banks and hospitals use to communicate sensitive user data are all encrypted — and that any upgrades consider the security component first. It’s important for consumers to do their own research on ways to prevent personal security breaches, and a large part of that journey can originate from the institutions that are digitally transforming themselves: encouraging consumers to remain vigilant in outsmarting cyber criminals through their own digital habits.

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