While paying my bills recently online through my bank, I had a sudden flash of concern. How safe was my transaction? Was I at risk of identity theft or, even worse, the pilfering of my accounts?
Although experts say online banking is safer than the traditional method of using paper statements, it turns out that my worry is not completely unfounded.
Although there are currently no reliable studies showing how much money is lost through online banking alone, there are a number of reports that have put this problem at the forefront.
Incredibly, about $3.2 billion was lost to phishing attacks in 2007, which affected 3.6 million people that year, according to a survey by Gartner, a technology research firm. Reports indicate that this is a growing problem.
The Sinowal Trojan, a virus that injects legitimate-looking pages on your browser, then steals your login credentials, compromised 300,000 online bank accounts and 250,000 credit and debit card accounts over three years, according to a study published in October by California’s RSA FraudAction Research Lab.
With the use of online banking on the rise, and the service heavily promoted by most financial institutions, this issue most likely will become even more widespread.
So how can those of us who use online banking safeguard ourselves?
Although there is no silver bullet, there are ways to bank smart online that can help minimize your risk of fraud.
Protecting your online banking info
The first rule of thumb is to confirm that the online banking site is legitimate. An easy way to do this is to log onto the site directly, not through a third party or unsolicited email. Otherwise, it’s easy to be duped by copycat websites that have been designed to capture your information.
When deciding on passwords and PINs, the more complex, the better. Never use the obvious, such as names or birth dates. The most secure passwords use a combination of letters and numbers (and special characters, if allowed). Change your passwords and PINs often, and vary your credentials from account to account.
Also, keep passwords and account information in a secure place, and don’t share them under any circumstances. This includes providing this information during unsolicited phone calls or in emails.
It’s best if your information is encrypted when being sent between your computer and your online bank (and back). Look for the lock or key icon in your web browser to be sure that your data is secure.
Don’t use a public computer, such as those located in hotels or cybercafÃ©s, to access your accounts, and be wary of using public or unsecured wifi networks. Otherwise, it will be relatively easy for fraudsters to steal your data.
Finally, any computer used for banking should have a virus protection program and firewall that are updated regularly, and be sure to perform virus scans daily. Warning signs that your computer has been compromised include slow or sluggish response times, frozen screens, and/or an inordinate number of unsolicited pop-ups.
Given that it’s nearly impossible to completely secure a computer, the more safeguards that you implement, the better off you will be.
By being proactive, keeping a close eye on account balances and transactions, and instituting safer online banking procedures, you will minimize your risk of theft.
It’s important never to let your guard down, especially when banking online.