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If you are not yet using online banking, you are part of a smaller and smaller club. According to a 2019 American Bankers Association survey, 73% of Americans access their bank accounts online or through their mobile device.
And for good reason.
Online and mobile banking make managing finances easy and convenient. You can pay bills, deposit checks, and transfer money between Facebook scrolling and Candy Crush game. Gone are the days of going to a branch to take care of day-to-day banking tasks.
There’s just one big concern to keep in mind when banking online: security.
Hacking your bank account or stealing your personal and financial information can create countless headaches. Money could be emptied from your account through fraudulent wire transfers, for example. Or an identity thief could use your information to open credit cards in your name and go on a shopping spree.
Concerns about the security of online banking services are something to be taken seriously. After all, you work hard for your money and protecting it is the number one priority.
Banks rely on various security measures, such as 128-bit or 256-bit data encryption, to protect their customers. And there are a number of things you can do on your own to protect your online banking information.
Choose strong and unique passwords
It might seem like an obvious tip, but your choice of password can create an opening for hackers, even if you don’t realize it.
Some of the most common mistakes you can make with online banking passwords include:
- Use of personal information, such as your name, address or date of birth
- Choose shorter passwords
- Use common words or simple number combinations
- Use the same password for multiple connections (which 83% of online banking customers do, according to a 2018 Cyclonis survey)
- Do not update passwords regularly
While doing these things can make it easier to remember passwords, they also make it easier for hackers to guess your password and access your banking information online. Here are some tips for creating stronger passwords for online banking:
- Choose longer passwords, such as a sentence rather than a single word.
- Use a mix of upper and lower case letters.
- Include numbers and special characters.
- Avoid common sequences, such as “1234”.
- Avoid using personal information, such as your name, the names of your pets, your date of birth, etc.
- Do not store your login information in your online banking or mobile app.
Remember to update your online banking passwords regularly. Changing them every three to six months could help reduce the chances of your password being stolen or decoded by hackers. Also consider using a password manager to store and protect your passwords, which can make it easier to use those longer and more complicated passwords.
Enable two-factor authentication if your bank offers it
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication can help you increase your security when protecting your banking information online.
In a nutshell, it allows you to add a second layer of security verification to log into your online or mobile banking account. First, you enter your username and password; then you have to pass a second safety test.
For example, you may need to enter a special code, verify your account via an automated phone call, or identify a pre-selected image. This can make it more difficult for a hacker or identity thief to unlock your account.
Check with your bank to see if multi-factor authentication is an option. If so, you might just need to download a free authenticator app to set up your account.
Avoid public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi comes in handy when you need to stay connected on the go, but you can’t rely on it to be secure. According to Norton, some of the biggest security risks posed by public Wi-Fi include:
- Man-in-the-middle attacks, in which hackers can electronically “spy” on your banking and other online activities
- Data transmissions over unencrypted networks
- Malicious access points
- Malware and spyware
The best way to protect your online banking information when using public Wi-Fi is simply not to.
If you must use the Internet to access online banking services when you are in a public place, there are steps you can take to keep yourself safe. These include disabling public file sharing and keeping sites encrypted. An easy way to verify the encryption is to search for “https” in the site URL, which also triggers the lock icon to the left of the URL in your browser. Your laptop or mobile device’s firewall may automatically flag sites that are deemed unsafe for you.
You can also consider setting up a virtual private network or VPN. This essentially creates a private network that only you can access. You can set up a VPN through your mobile device or laptop using a VPN service. Norton, for example, offers this feature.
Subscribe to banking alerts
Bank alerts and notifications are one of the easiest ways to stay on top of your banking activity and monitor security. Depending on how your bank operates, you may be able to sign up for email or text alerts to receive notifications.
The types of alerts you can configure include notifications for new credit and debit transactions, login failure alerts, password change alerts, and outgoing bank transfer alerts. For example, if an identity thief tries to log into your account, you will be immediately notified.
You can then log in yourself and change the password to make it more secure. Notifications can also help if someone manages to hack your account and make a fraudulent purchase. You can immediately notify the bank that your online banking details have been compromised, to prevent further fraudulent activity.
Beware of phishing scams
Phishing is one of the most common methods used by identity thieves to gain access to personal and financial information. This type of scam usually involves tricking you into giving out your information.
Phishing scams can take many forms, but often they are email scams. For example, you might receive an email that appears to be from your bank, telling you that you need to log into your account online and update your information.
You click on the link and log into what appears to be a legitimate site, but is in fact a dummy site. Or, by clicking on a link, you automatically download tracking malware to your computer that allows identity thieves to log your keystrokes.
In either case, you gave up your login information without realizing it. For this reason, it is important to take a close look at all emails that ask for financial or personal information.
First check the address of the sender of the e-mail. Then, instead of clicking on the links, hover over them to see where the link text leads. If you receive an email from your bank asking for information, call your local branch or customer service to verify that it is legitimate before sharing any information.
The same is true if you receive a phone call from your bank or anyone else asking for your banking information. A common phishing scam, for example, involves calls from someone claiming to be an IRS representative demanding money for unpaid taxes.
If you receive this kind of call, hang up and call back the number and / or do a Google search to verify that it is legitimate first. This can be an easy way to check if the call is a scam.
Choose wisely when downloading financial apps
Financial apps, including mobile banking apps, can help you with everything from banking and paying bills to sending money for shopping. But they are not all created the same in the security department.
If you plan to use mobile apps for banking, the first step is to make sure you’re using your bank’s official app. The next step is to be careful with whom you allow access to your online and mobile banking information.
For example, you might consider using a robot advisor or budgeting app to manage your money. These apps may ask you to share your online banking login credentials so that they can extract information to build your financial picture.
Online banking lets you take control of your financial life with the push of a button, but like anything online, there are security risks. That shouldn’t stop you from using online and mobile banking, but it does mean you’ll have to be careful how you approach it. This is where the measures described here can help.
Also, don’t forget to follow the basic housekeeping duties and safety of your appliances. Install firewall security on your laptop or mobile device if you haven’t already. Use a password to lock your laptop and enjoy facial recognition or fingerprint lock on your phone. Finally, keep your operating systems up to date. By being proactive in managing security risks, you can help reduce the risk of your online banking information ending up in the wrong hands.