7 Simple and Effective Ways to Protect Yourself From Cybercrime

With 21st century consumers living so much of their lives and conducting so much of their business online, cybersecurity has become an increasingly important day-to-day concern for most Americans. And the statistics show plenty of good reason to take added precaution when it comes to protecting your personal information on the internet.

Consider these eye-opening numbers:

7 top tips for staying safer online

While today’s cybercrime risks are certainly abundant, consumers can take a range of steps to protect themselves and their information. Consider these seven leading (and easy-to-implement) ways that you can reduce your risk of falling victim to hacking or other cyberattacks:

  1. Stay on top of software updates: Cybercriminals are constantly developing new ways to steal consumers’ money and personal information. And to protect against their evolving tactics, software and application developers provide regular, security-boosting updates to their codes and platforms. By updating your devices’ applications and software as soon as possible when new versions and updates become available, you can make sure that your devices have the most up-to-date protections against the latest cybercrime iterations in place.
  2. Use strong and varying passwords: Sure, “password123” is an easy password to remember — but it’s also an easy password for cybercriminals to guess. Further, when you use the same password across multiple online accounts, cybercriminals can gain the key to a range of your personal accounts when just one account is compromised via something like a data breach.
    To make your passwords harder for ill-intentioned hackers to crack, consider employing these tactics:
    – Avoid using personal info such as birthdays or pets’ names in your passwords, as cybercriminals can glean this info from publicly accessible sources such as social media, then use it when trying to access your accounts.
    – Employ long passwords that use hard-to-guess phrases rather than single words.
    – To add complexity to your passwords, use numbers in them, along with a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters, as well as special characters such as underscores and exclamation points.
    – Refrain from writing your passwords down for malicious actors to find, or sending passwords in emails, which run the risk of being breached by unwelcome intruders.
    – Use different passwords for each of your different online accounts — and especially ones you use for financial services or ones where financial information like your credit card numbers may be stored.
    – Change your passwords regularly — experts recommend doing this every three to four months.
    – Consider employing a trusted password manager, which can remember long and complicated (and therefore highly secure) passwords for you, all while keeping them protected from bad actors.
  3. When available, opt for multi-factor authentication: To boost security levels, many online accounts will offer multi-factor authentication. This powerful tool employs added steps to verify users’ identification such as texting or emailing unique codes that expire quickly, then requiring they be entered before granting account access. When you see this option available for your online accounts, taking advantage can greatly decrease your risks of any unwanted account intrusion.
  4. Employ anti-virus protection and firewalls: Anti-virus software is created specifically to protect your digital devices against viruses, hacks, and other unwanted threats and intrusions. And by installing a reputable anti-virus application and keeping it regularly updated, you can make yourself a much tougher target for cybercriminals and keep your personal information safer. In addition, by employing a firewall, a security system that monitors internet traffic going into, out of or moving within a private digital network, users can prevent unwanted network access — cutting off a common access point used by cybercriminals to steal information.
  5. Be aware of and on the lookout for phishing attempts: Phishing scams attempt to trick unsuspecting internet users into turning over their personal (and often financial) details by sending them fake emails that appear to be from legitimate businesses or organizations. They’ll often include links to web pages that are also fake, and that also attempt to look like the real thing.
    Two of the best protections against phishing are awareness and alertness, as phishing emails will often give themselves away with misspelled words, improper grammar usage and bad punctuation. Consumers can also spot phishing scams by double-checking the links in any suspicious emails they receive before clicking through on them. The destination websites will often feature a slight misspelling of a legitimate business’s web address, so be sure to review them carefully. Also, when you hover your cursor over a hyperlink in an email, most email browsers will display the link’s true online destination — so don’t click through when the destination address doesn’t match that of the legitimate organization’s website.Further, anytime a business or other organization emails or texts seeking payment or other personal details, it’s never a bad idea to contact the institution directly to confirm the legitimacy of the request before taking any further action.
  6. Avoid banking on public Wi-Fi networks: Public Wi-Fi can be a big help when you need to get things done online on the go. But when using a publicly available Wi-Fi network, there’s no way to be certain who’s controlling the network, who else is on it or that the connection hasn’t been compromised in some way. This makes the risk level for using these networks much higher than on a trusted home or business network, with some of the dangers of using public Wi-Fi including threats like unwanted monitoring or access via man-in-the-middle attacks, malicious hotspots, malware and spyware.For all of these reasons, it’s wise to avoid using public networks for any online activities that might involve providing or viewing any personal or sensitive information, such as accessing any financial accounts. Instead, it’s best to access your online or mobile banking services from home or the office, or to instead use your cellular connection for these purposes when out and about by turning off your device’s Wi-Fi before logging on.
  7. Set up banking and credit card alerts if available: It’s smart to keep a close eye on all of your bank and credit card accounts, regularly reviewing them for any unfamiliar activity and/or transactions. And to help you keep an even closer eye on them, many banks and other providers of financial services will allow users to set up automatic alerts that let them know when specified transactions such as withdrawals or large purchases take place. Other account activities that alerts can tip you off to — often immediately — include outgoing wire transfers, failed login attempts, password changes, and the addition of new payees to any online bill pay accounts.

Proudly serving South Carolina since 1933, Arthur State Bank offers accounts and services to meet a variety of financial needs. To help you achieve all your financial goals, the bank offers in-person service as well as a range of convenient digital solutions. To learn how Arthur State Bank can help you with banking needs ranging from checking and savings to retirement accounts, mortgages, other personal loans and more, visit arthurstatebank.com.

Man doing his banking online

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only source for free credit reports authorized by the federal government. Every 12 months, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each agency.

Your credit report has your credit history for all of your credit accounts as well as any credit inquiries and public record court information such as collections. In addition, the report provides personally identifiable information such as your name, address, and employment.

Be sure to carefully review all three reports to identify any problem areas that you may need to clean up prior to applying for a mortgage. If there is any incorrect information, follow the reporting agency’s rules to correct it or add a notation to the report to explain the situation.

Your FICO Score is a score combines data from several areas include payment history, the amount owed, length of credit history, new accounts. Many lenders use this score as a guide. This score is not provided as part of the free annual credit report.

Learn more about how your credit score impacts your ability to secure a loan.

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Couple looking over finances

Primary considerations for setting your housing budget require an assessment of your income, debt and current savings for the down payment on the home. The following are generally recommended guidelines; however, you should meet with an Arthur State Bank lender to get personalized mortgage information.

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Couple meeting with lender

The pre-qualification/pre-approval letter is included with any offer you make on a house to inform the seller that you have met with a mortgage lender and you are prepared to make an offer. The letter states that based on certain assumptions, the bank is prepared to lend you up to a specified amount of money for a home mortgage.

When choosing a loan officer, we recommend going local to work with someone who understands your community’s real estate market. This blog on first-time home purchases includes questions to ask your lender that may be helpful when preparing for your meeting.

Helpful Resources:

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Realtor shaking hands with a client

When a house is sold, the seller typically pays real estate commission to both the listing agent and the selling agent. It is extremely beneficial for the buyer to use their own real estate agent. Loan officers can often recommend selling agents in the area; ask your officer about realtor referrals when discussing your loan.

A good realtor will know the local market and can help you find an ideal home based on your budget, location and desired features. During your search, understand that you will most likely need to compromise on some items, so it’s important to identify your critical needs versus your wants.

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Couple searching online for a home

Additionally, when you start with the house search and work backwards, homes can often go off the market while you’re completing steps 1-4. While browsing homes immediately can be tempting, we recommend following these steps in order so that, once you find your dream home, you’ll be well-positioned to take action immediately.

When you find the home you want and you think you are ready to put an offer on it, you will want to make sure you have all the information you need to make a solid offer.

  • Evaluate the neighborhood.
  • Drive by the house at different times of the day.
  • Examine how other houses in the neighborhood are maintained.
  • Consider any potential traffic or other disruptive noise.
  • Is there ample parking for you and visitors?
  • Read the details in any Homeowner Association agreements (HOA fees and rules).

Make sure to do a preliminary check of house details:

  • Check the water:
  • Does it have good pressure?
  • How long does it take to get the water hot?
  • Is it well water or city water?
  • Turn light switches on and off.
  • Open and close doors and windows to make sure they work properly.
  • Review previous utility bill expenses.
  • Consider the property tax bill.

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Family meeting with realtor at new house

When writing an offer contract, be sure to pay attention to all of the details.

Offer Price:

Your agent should do a market analysis that pulls data on recently sold comparable houses. The best comparisons will come from the same neighborhood.

If you are asking for the seller to pay some of the closing costs, remember that this cost plus the sales commission determines the net amount you are offering the seller for the house.

Work with your agent on your negotiation strategy. There are many things to consider, such as how badly you want this particular house, whether it is a buyer’s or seller’s market and an assessment of the seller’s motivation to get the property sold.

There isn’t one best strategy.

Be sure to document in writing everything you want included with the house, such as appliances, etc. Your agent should guide you through the contract step-by-step.

Contingencies:

  • Home inspection.
  • Mortgage.
  • Final walk through (24 hours prior to closing).

Proposed closing date. Typically, this is 30-45 days from an accepted offer.

A good-faith deposit is required for the offer. This is typically between 1-10% of the purchase price of the house. The deposit is kept in escrow until closing and the money is applied to the purchase price of the house at closing. If the house does not close due to one of the contingency clauses, the buyer receives their money back. However, if the buyer decides not to close on the property, the seller may get the deposit money.

Attach your pre-approval letter to the offer.

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Two people in professional meeting

The clock starts ticking for everything documented in the contract, including mortgage application, inspections and closing date.

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Woman advising other woman on mortgage application

You will need to decide which mortgage to select prior to the application.

Plan for the following potential fees:

  • Application fee (many banks and mortgage companies charge an application fee; however, there is not an application fee at Arthur State Bank).
  • Credit check.
  • Appraisal (may be paid at closing).
  • Loan origination fee (paid at closing).

Once you have approval for your loan, make sure you don’t change anything that will impact the status of your mortgage. Banks do a final check on credit and jobs just prior to closing, so now is not the time to change jobs or make another purchase on credit such as a car or furniture.

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Home inspector going over findings with home owner

Depending on the size of the house, an inspection can cost on average between $300 to $1000.

Many real estate contracts specify how problems uncovered in the inspection will be resolved, up to a certain dollar amount. Should necessary repairs exceed that amount, the buyer has the option to cancel the contract without penalty and receive their deposit money back. Another option is for the buyer and seller to renegotiate who will pay for additional repairs.

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Woman happily holding keys to her new home
  • Homeowner’s insurance is required by the lender prior to closing on the loan.
  • Turn on utilities in your name, effective the closing date.
  • Change your address with the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Make moving arrangements.

Three days prior to closing:

  • You should receive your final Closing Disclosure from the closing agency. The final Closing Disclosure shows a column for the seller and a column for the buyer. All closing charges and credits for both the seller and the buyer are documented in the closing statement.
  • Review the closing statement for accuracy prior to coming to closing.
  • The final amount in the buyer’s column shows you the amount of money you need to pay at closing.

The closing office will provide specific payment instructions. Closing funds have become recent targets for cybercriminals. If you are asked to use a wire transfer, call the office and ask to speak to someone you have been working with to double-check the instructions.

Closing day:

In South Carolina, the closing will usually take place at the attorney’s office. Everyone signing for the mortgage must be present to sign the closing paperwork. Make sure you bring the following:

  • Cashier’s check or proof of payment for wire transfer.
  • Driver’s license.
  • Checkbook, just in case there are any additional items that were not on the closing statement.

Be sure to understand this information:

  • How and when you will pay:
  • Your mortgage.
  • Your property taxes.
  • Your homeowner’s insurance.
  • Any HOA dues.
  • Who to call with any questions.

The best practice is to go through the homebuyer’s roadmap in this sequence. However, if you jumped ahead early in your journey, just circle back to address the steps you missed.

Arthur State Bank’s loan officers are closely tapped into local real estate markets and experts at helping clients get what they need on terms that work for them. We also offer mortgage specials for first-time homebuyers.

To start planning your journey to your dream home, try out our mortgage calculator. If you’re ready to talk to a loan officer, contact Arthur State Bank to request personalized mortgage information today. Don’t forget to ask about our first-time homebuyer offer.

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