As more and more consumers search for financial information on the Internet, they may inadvertently leave themselves open to being “tracked” by certain companies and individuals. Visitors to financial websites have created a large mass of information that is, in some cases, hardly private. Many marketing companies routinely employ software programs designed to identify you and your “surfing” habits on financial websites. Some are basic and some can be very invasive.
Individual investors are now faced with growing concerns about keeping their financial matters private. Here are several ideas to help you maintain confidentiality and keep your private matters truly private:
o Exercise diligence. Be extremely careful about providing financial information to websites that are not well known. Larger financial institutions are developing policies to protect the rights and financial information of their customers and they get high marks for doing the job well.
o Guard personal information. As with any financial information, when providing certain financial websites with information, such as your phone number, you create a whole new world of opportunities for “cold calling” financial organizations. So, resist the temptation of providing personal information to companies who are unfamiliar to you.
o Check Website ratings. You have another valuable opportunity to discover whether your financial information is as private as you’d like. Several rating organizations now rate websites based on privacy. There are, however, few standards that guide these organizations in their rating policies. This being the case, it might be wise to check several rating organizations to see if, and how, they rank the sites you intend to explore. When online, check out a site through any of these groups: TRUSTe at www.trustarc.com, CPA WebTrust at www.cpawebtrust.org/, and Better Business Bureau Online at www.bbbonline.org/.
You should understand that these organizations cannot punish or penalize financial websites for lack of privacy. Thus, it is up to the individual to choose the sites that will provide the most confidentiality.
o Reduce or eliminate cookies. You can, in fact, take some measures to help safeguard certain financial information. Start by telling your browser not to accept cookies. The result may make surfing the net a little more difficult. On the other hand, you could choose to limit cookies or to be alerted when a cookie is set. As a third alternative, you could simply delete any cookies from your hard drive after each online session.
While maintaining anonymity on the Web is difficult, it’s important to protect your financial privacy and any financial information about your family. As time goes by, more and more protective measures can be put in place so your financial records and information will be better protected from the prying eyes of unknown third parties.