The Internet makes financial transactions quick and easy, and for investors it’s practically an indispensable tool. But as we’ve pointed out in previous posts, unwary users can find themselves vulnerable to scammers and hackers who can empty bank accounts, hijack identities and ruin reputations. If you conduct financial business online – and who doesn’t? – A few simple precautions can foil cyber criminals and keep your accounts safe.
Use a Single Computer
You check your bank account vie your smartphone or pay your credit card bills on your laptop while on vacation. But cyber fraud experts warn that the more devices you’re using to access your accounts, the more vulnerable you are to hacking. It may seem a little outdated, but for maximum security, dedicate one computer to your finances and conduct all your business there to reduce the chances of anyone getting access to your accounts.
Sign up for Account Alerts
Some cyber criminals are so slick that it takes months for a victim to realize that money is slowly being siphoned from an account or a credit card is being misused. Most major financial institutions offer an account alert system that flags suspicious transactions such as withdrawals or credit card charges. Sign up for those services when available. But don’t put all your trust in them – check your statements regularly and contact the institution if you suspect a problem.
Use a Dedicated Browser
Because browsers such as Firefox and Google Chrome store date from searches and even passwords, cyber crime experts recommend installing multiple browsers and dedicating one just for your online financial business and another for everything else you do online. Regularly clear your browser’s cached information, too – the longer it remains stored on your computer the easier it is to access.
It’s hard to remember a batch of different passwords, so many people stick with just one or two that they use for everything from checking bank accounts to going on Facebook. But that’s a mistake. Make sure that passwords relating to finances are different from the ones you use for other sites – and be sure that they aren’t obvious ones, like your birth date or a child’s name. Change them frequently, too – and don’t let the computer store extra-sensitive ones.
Recognize Phishing Emails and Links
Sophisticated scammers can create emails that look exactly like those from legitimate institutions, down to the logo and similar looking web address. They may warn account holders that their account has been suspended or needs updating or verification with sensitive information. But real banks and financial services won’t ask for that. Real estate scams often ask for money to be sent to an online account or service, too, so beware of any requests to create an account or transfer money to a site or link you don’t recognize.
Online transactions account for over half the business conducted in any given day – and any of those transactions is vulnerable to cyber crime. But a little vigilance and a few tweaks to the routine can foil even the smartest cyber criminals and keep investments safe. (Top image:Flickr/cooperweb)
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