Editor's note: This is a special alert from FINRA -- Financial Industry Regulatory Authority. It has been republished for TheStreet.com readers.
Your brokerage firm has an obligation to safeguard your personal financial information. But even the best procedures cannot prevent all instances of identity theft -- especially if the vulnerability lies with you, the customer.
This brochure, brought to you by FINRA and the Securities Industry Financial Markets Association (SIFMA), describes the critical steps you can take to safeguard your financial accounts and help prevent identity theft.
How Does Identify Theft Occur?
A host of ways. Some identify thieves use keystroke-logging software to capture usernames and passwords, disseminating these programs through instant messages, emails, or freeware. Others "phish" for sensitive information by sending phony emails that purport to come from a legitimate financial institution but which ask for information your firm would never request through email--such as confirmation of an account number, password, credit card number, or Social Security number. Still others use the old-fashioned method of "dumpster-diving" to recover your discarded account statements or other records that haven't been properly shredded.
How Can I Protect Myself?
Take the following steps to secure your brokerage accounts and your personal financial information:
Protect Your Passwords and PINs. Do not share your passwords or PINs with others. You also should not store your passwords or PINs on your computer. If you need to write down your passwords or PINs, store them in a secure, private place. You should change your passwords and PINs regularly and use a different password and PIN for each of your accounts. Use passwords and PINs that contain numbers and letters or symbols.
Maintain Your Computer Security. Personal firewalls and security software packages (with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection features) are a must for those who engage in online financial transactions. Make sure that your computer has up-to-date security software, including security patches, that the software is configured for automatic updates, and that the software is always turned on. For laptops, be sure to use encryption software. Computer hardware and software providers also maintain security pages on their Web sites with tips for checking and improving the security of your system.
Use Your Own Computer. It is generally safer to access your brokerage account from your own computer. Avoid using public computers to access your brokerage account. Public computers may contain software that captures passwords and PINs, providing that information to others at your expense.
If you do use another computer, be sure to delete your "Temporary Internet Files" or "Cache" and clear all of your "History" after you log off your account. You should occasionally check to make sure that no one else has attached any device or added programs to your computer without your knowledge or consent. Consult the Help function on your browser and operating system to learn how to delete this information.