Anyone who has logged into a financial institution’s website in the last few years knows the drill. Enter an ID, a password and then answer a range of questions, ranging from the basic (“What’s your mother’s maiden name?”) to the silly (“What was the name of your favorite stuffed animal?”). Banks and credit card companies put those questions in place as an extra layer of security to protect your accounts and guard against identity theft, but it turns out that they aren’t always effective.

Some questions suffer from the weakness of being easily guessable, like “What color are your eyes?” Others, like “Where did you go to high school?” could be answered by anyone who can look at your social media profiles. For security questions to be truly secure, it’s up to users to create strong answers – or even write their own questions.

In some cases, financial institutions give customers the option to write their own security questions. When doing so, make sure that the questions have answers that are memorable, unchanging, unique and which cannot be easily found online. Examples might be “What was your phone number during third grade?” or “Where did you have your wedding reception?”

If a company doesn’t offer the option for user-created questions, get creative with answers to the existing queries. Try adding special characters (as long as they’re easy to remember), using multiple words or “code” words that give a unique spin to a basic question like “What’s your favorite color?”. The more creative the answer, the less likely it is to be guessed by identity thieves trying to gain access to your accounts.

Weak answers to security questions can leave accounts insecure. Taking the time to create unique answers adds an extra layer of safety and frustrates the efforts hackers, credit card thieves and other scammers.

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