In general, it’s very safe to bank or shop online – IF you take precautions to protect yourself. In today’s “online” world, banks and online retailers have some very sophisticated security measures in place to protect against hackers and phishers, says Julie Conroy McNelley, senior fraud and risk analyst at research firm Aite Group.
The problem is that many hackers have become just as sophisticated and databases still can be breached to get cardholders information, McNelley explained in a recent U.S. News and World Money Report. Don’t fear, there are ways to protect you while doing commerce online. Follow these six tips to stay safe…
1. Don’t talk to strangers. Hackers have been more successful getting personal banking, cardholder information by sending emails that they put a link in hoping you’ll take the bite and click on it. That’s how they download “malware” (malicious software) to your computer and are able to follow your moves to your bank account and anywhere online you use a credit or debit card attached to your bank. Your bank, and other bona fide institutions will never ask you for your account numbers or ask you to enter usernames or passwords. If you get emails like this, even phone calls telling you to call them with this information, call your bank to verify.
2. Keep computers protected, up to date. Register with your virus protection company (Norton, McAfee, etc) to send you alerts about updating, upgrading your virus coverage. Be sure your computer is set to do automatic Windows updates as well to keep your security levels high. Your smartphone is also a computer. As such, it needs the same protective software your laptop or desktop has. Downloadable apps can contain malware and other tracking devices in them as well, says McNelley. Forego doing banking from your smartphone if at all possible.
3. Social medias are the new dark alley. That’s how McNelley advises clients to think of them – you never know whom you’re going to meet and you shouldn’t go unprotected. Again, don’t click on email links, even those sent you by friends. Be careful what information you post.
4. Consider identify theft protection. No one thinks they really need this protection until your credit card or banking account has been breached and something major purchased in your name. If you notice an error on your account transactions, call your bank, or credit card company, immediately and have them investigate as is required by law. They do not hold you accountable for charges you didn’t make.
5. Check your statements often. Take time to periodically check “activity” on your accounts to make sure they’re all yours. Never give out your Social Security number anywhere. Shred paper statements, and ask for e-billing.
6. Change passwords. Using the same password you’ve used for years ups your risk in getting hacked. Eventually, hackers may figure it out. Keep track of your passwords, user names, somewhere other than your computer.