If you’re not using online banking yet, you’re part of an increasingly small 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 in between scrolling Facebook and playing Candy Crush. Gone are the days of visiting a branch to handle routine banking tasks.
There’s just one big concern to keep in mind when banking online: security.
Having your bank account hacked or your personal and financial information stolen can create innumerable headaches. Money could be drained from your account via fraudulent wire transfers, for example. Or an identity thief could leverage your information to open credit cards in your name and treat themselves to a shopping spree.
Concerns over online banking security are something to take seriously. After all, you work hard for your money and protecting it is priority number one.
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 yourself to help keep your online banking information safe.
Choose Strong and Unique Passwords
This may seem like obvious advice, 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 may be making with online banking passwords include:
Using personal information, such as your name, address or date of birth
Choosing shorter passwords
Relying on common words or simple number combinations
Using the same password for multiple logins (something 83% of online banking customers do, according to a 2018 Cyclonis survey)
Not updating passwords regularly
While doing those things can make remembering passwords easier, they also make it easier for hackers to guess your password and access your online banking information. Here are some tips for creating stronger passwords for banking online:
Choose longer passwords, such as a phrase rather than a single word.
Use a mix of upper and lowercase letters.
Include numbers and special characters.
Avoid common sequences, such as “1234.”
Avoid using personal information, such as your name, pets’ names, date of birth, etc.
Don’t store your login details in your online banking or mobile app.
Remember to update your online banking passwords regularly. Changing them every three to six months could help lower the odds of your password being stolen or decoded by hackers. Also consider using a password manager to store and protect your passwords, which can make using those longer and more complicated passwords easier.
Enable Two-Factor Authentication If Your Bank Offers It
Two-factor or multi-factor authentication can help you step up your security game when protecting your online banking information.
In a nutshell, it allows you to add a second layer of security verification to log in to your online or mobile banking account. First, you enter your login name and password; then, you have to pass a second security test.
For example, you may need to enter a special code, verify your account through an automated phone call or identify a preselected image. This can make it harder for a hacker or identity thief to unlock your account.
Check with your bank to see if multi-factor authentication is an option. If it is, you may just need to download a free authenticator app to get your account set up.
Steer Clear of Public Wi-Fi
Public Wi-Fi is convenient when you need to stay connected on the go, but you can’t count 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 are able to electronically “eavesdrop” on your banking and other online activity
- Data transmissions over unencrypted networks
- Malicious hotspots
- Malware and spyware
The best way to protect your online banking information when using public Wi-Fi is simply not to do it.
If you do have to use the internet to access online banking while you’re in a public place, there are a few things you can do to help stay secure. These include disabling public file sharing and sticking with sites that are encrypted. An easy way to check for encryption is to look for “https” in the site’s 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 also could 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.
Sign Up for Banking Alerts
Banking alerts and notifications are one of the easiest ways to stay on top of your banking activity and to monitor security. Depending on how your bank operates, you may be able to enroll in email or text alerts to receive notifications.
The kinds of alerts you may want to set up include notifications for new credit and debit transactions, failed login alerts, password change alerts and outgoing wire transfer alerts. For example, if an identity thief is attempting to log in to your account, you’ll be notified right away.
You could then log in yourself and change the password to make it more secure. Notifications also can help if someone does manage to hack your account and make a fraudulent purchase. You can notify the bank right away that your online banking details have been compromised, to prevent any additional fraudulent activity.
Be Wary of Phishing Scams
Phishing is one of the most common methods identity thieves use to gain access to personal and financial information. This kind of scam usually involves tricking you into giving up your information.
Phishing scams can take different forms, but they’re often email scams. For example, you might get an email that looks as if it came from your bank, telling you that you need to log in to your online account and update your information.
You click the link and log in to what appears to be a legit site but is actually a dummy site. Or, clicking a link automatically downloads tracking malware to your computer that allows identity thieves to log your keystrokes.
In either case, you’ve given up your login details without realizing it. For this reason, it’s important to scrutinize closely any emails that request financial or personal information.
Check the email’s sender address first. Then, instead of clicking links, hover over them to see where the link text leads to. If you get an email from your bank asking for information, call your local branch or customer service to verify that it’s legitimate before sharing any details.
The same goes 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 get this kind of call, hang up and call the number back and/or do a Google search for the number to verify that it’s legit first. This can be an easy way to test whether the call is a scam.
Choose Wisely When Downloading Financial Apps
Financial apps, including mobile banking apps, can help with everything from doing your banking to paying bills to sending money to shopping. But they’re not all created equally in the security department.
If you’re planning to use mobile apps to bank, the first step is making sure you’re using your bank’s official app. The next step is being careful with whom you allow to access your online and mobile banking details.
For example, you might be thinking of using a robo-advisor or budgeting app to manage your money. These apps may ask you to share your login credentials for online banking so they can pull information to create your financial picture.
That in itself could put your information at risk if those secondary apps aren’t secure. Not to mention, doing so could violate your bank’s terms of service. Before downloading financial apps from the app store, check the ratings first. Then, do a little homework and research the app developer’s security policies and whether it has a history of data breaches.
Online banking gives you control over your financial life at the touch of a button, but, as with anything else online, there are risks when it comes to security. That shouldn’t keep you from using online and mobile banking, but it does mean you’ll need to be careful about how you approach it. That’s where the measures outlined here can help.
Also, remember to keep up with basic security housekeeping duties for your devices. Install firewall security on your laptop or mobile device if you haven’t done that yet. Use a password to lock your laptop and take advantage of facial recognition or fingerprint locking on your phone. Lastly, keep your operating systems updated. By being proactive with managing security risks, you can help decrease the odds of your online banking information ending up in the wrong hands.