Technology is making life more convenient for consumers. Unfortunately, it's also making it easier for cybercriminals to access information.

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It’s no secret that technology is making life more convenient for consumers. Unfortunately, there’s a flip side to that coin: Advances in technology also are making it easier for cybercriminals to access your banking details and steal your money.

So what steps can you, the consumer, take to prevent being a victim? Here’s a list of six things you can start doing right now to keep yourself and your most sensitive financial information safe from compromise.

Change your passwords to something hard to crack.
Simple passwords such as your pet’s name aren’t going to cut it anymore. It’s important to create a password that’s at least eight characters long and contains an uppercase letter, a number, or a special character ($, #, &, etc.) It’s also best to avoid using the same password for several sites. Use a tool such as LastPass to help you create and keep track of a long list of separate passwords.

Don’t download software from pop-up windows.
Fraudsters are getting increasingly crafty at luring consumers into entering their credit card information based off false claims. For example, a pop-up window might say your PC is unsecure and vulnerable to attack, prompting you to enter payment details to update your antivirus software. But the minute you enter your card number, not only will the thieves have it, but a “system scan” might start, which may actually be installing malicious software (malware) on your device. It’s a good idea to run a pop-up blocker like Adblock Plus to stay protected against these potential attacks.

Consider your credit/debit card details as valuable as cash.
In the hands of a thief, there is simply no difference between your credit card number and cash. This means taking every precaution possible to keep these details secure, including shielding your PIN when entering it and only shopping on secure websites. Before entering your card number, be sure the URL begins with “https,” and look for a padlock symbol to appear next to it.

Check statements regularly.
Keep receipts and compare them to what your statements say. Your bank might alert you when possible fraud activity appears on your account, but that’s far from a guarantee. It’s best to regularly scan your statements for unfamiliar merchants. If you see anything suspicious, report it immediately, as your card details may have been compromised. The sooner you report the activity, the sooner your bank can put a freeze on your account or cancel your card to minimize any further losses.

Be aware of your surroundings at cash machines.
Don’t be distracted while making a transaction at an ATM. This includes helping a seemingly well-intentioned stranger in the middle of your transaction. If someone is standing too close to you or watching you from afar, cancel the transaction and use another machine. Also, don’t use a machine that looks tampered with or damaged. If the machine can’t return your card, you won’t be able to get it back.

Don’t panic.
The horror stories and ominous statistics might sound bad, but don’t panic. Like many other situations you might encounter in life, a bit of situational awareness and caution can go a long way. Taking steps such as those in the aforementioned list can dramatically reduce your risk of being a victim. While nobody is completely safe from fraud or identity theft, offense is always the best defense.

No matter the scheme, it’s important to recognize fraud when you see them. Even with technology and financial institutions on your side, swindlers still managed to nab $16 billion in funds from over 15 million U.S. consumers in 2016. Both numbers were increases from 2015 totals, which points to a disturbing trend. Don’t be part of the trend for 2017! Take caution, take action, and stay protected from fraud.

BECU is a not-for-profit credit union owned by its more than 1 million members. Members receive the benefit of ownership through better rates and fewer fees. In 2016, BECU put $5 million back into the community through giving and community programs.