It’s quick, it’s convenient, it’s accessible. No wonder Internet banking is popular. Unfortunately, security is an issue. Not only do criminals target banking websites, but they target bank customers as well. Not just the cash, but your personal information is at risk. Given the personal details you share with your bank -- your Social Security number, for instance -- the risk of identity theft looms large. Information, vigilance and preventive action can help protect you when you bank online.
Cyber-Criminals vs. Banks
No security shield will ever exist to stop cyber-criminals once and for all. Even as banks lock out bad guys, the bad guys eventually find new ways in. Customers can help banks protect their accounts by being security-conscious themselves. Otherwise, it’s as if customers were leaving their doors unlocked in a crime-ridden neighborhood. First, check your account balance often and make sure every transaction in your record is one you authorized. Report unauthorized activity to your bank immediately. Take comfort in knowing that if a cyber attack raids your bank, the bank must replace any money you lose. However, monitor your account regularly for mysterious debits because if it's just your account that's hit, the bank can set time limits on replacing lost funds. You might even have to pay a kind of deductible before all of your funds are replaced, depending on how soon you report the mystery debits. For example, a bank might say you must pay the first $50 of the total amount stolen if you don't report the crime within three days of it occurring.
Sketchy Online Banks
Just because a polished website proclaims itself to be an online bank doesn’t mean that it is or that it’s operating by the same rules as the institution down the street. First, double-check the URL. Some fraudulent sites, intent on trickery, use names or website addresses only slightly different from a legitimate bank. Those who don’t notice input their passwords to log in, unwittingly supplying the password to crooks. Check the site for the FDIC logo or notice. Even better, go to the government's BankFind website, which lists insured banks.
Phishing for Treasure
Criminals fishing, or "phishing" in hacker-speak, for bank information may pose as your bank or another official authority in an email. The email entices you to click on a link. If you bite, you’re transported to a counterfeit bank website. Logging in as demanded, you unwittingly give thieves the key to your account, which they can now access at will. The prevention: No matter how convincing, don’t visit your bank through email links and remember that banks don’t ask for log-in information by phone or email.
Never forget that security breaches often require your cooperation to succeed. You don’t have to follow that link or bow to pressure to share your PIN, for instance. Make breaking into your bank account harder by using a long, randomly generated, secret password. You should use different passwords for each online account, but especially make sure your bank password is unique. That way, if a hacker gains access to another online login, it won’t open the door to your money. Keep informed about the latest scams criminals are using to target your money. To protect yourself, you must keep tabs on the thugs.
Sophie Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media. A freelancer for more than 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews.