Online banks have a lot of appeal for people who are looking for a streamlined way to manage their finances and potentially earn some better rates on their savings. If you’ve left your brick-and-mortar bank behind for a virtual one, you already know what the positives are, which are typically no monthly fees, ATM fee reimbursements and higher-than-average savings rates.
When it comes to how safe your money is, online banks typically use the same security measures as traditional banks. Still, that doesn’t guarantee that your accounts are 100 percent protected against Internet threats. Stopping hackers from gaining access to your information isn’t foolproof, as evidenced by the recent breach at the nation’s largest bank, JPMorgan Chase. If you’re concerned about being the victim of an online bank hacking, there are some additional steps you can take to safeguard your accounts.
1. Protect your password
Once a hacker is able to get their hands on your online banking user name and password, they have the potential to do some serious damage to your accounts. Unfortunately, when it comes to keeping our passwords safe, most of us tend to be pretty lazy. One study found that 61 percent of Americans use the same password on multiple sites, making it that much easier for a cyber thief to gain access to your bank account.
Changing your password routinely and making it as unique as possible are two fairly easy ways to put obstacles in a hacker’s way. Making your password an acronym for something else, choosing a phrase or sentence instead of just one or two words or picking the title of a your favorite book or song can result in a stronger password. If you bank online with more than one institution, you can use a free password manager like KeePass or Dashlane to keep track of your login information.
2. Be wary of email scams
Phishing scams have been around for years but people still fall victim to them, often at the cost of their finances. If you receive a notification from your online bank that your account has been hacked or they need to verify your information, that should send up a big red flag.
Even if it looks legit, you should still call up your bank to find out what’s going on before you click through any links included in the email. These kinds of scams often contain malware or tracking software that lets identity thieves follow your movements and record your login information on the different sites you use.
3. Avoid logging in through public access
Using public computers or free Wi-Fi to check your online bank account is a bad idea for a couple of reasons. For example, you don’t know if the computer’s been compromised by another user. If they’ve installed malicious software that allows them to monitor your activity, you likely won’t know until it’s too late.
Using a public Wi-Fi connection to check your accounts from your laptop or mobile device may seem safe enough but you have no way of knowing who else is using the connection. You could inadvertently be broadcasting your banking details to a room full of cyber crooks.
If you have to use Wi-Fi, you can shield yourself by connecting through a Virtual Private Network service. When you set up a VPN, it encrypts your information so that it’s unable to be ready by another web user. CyberGhost and SurfEasy are two free options for establishing a secure connection when you’re in a public place.
4. Verify web addresses
When you’re logging in to your online banking system from a laptop or tablet, you should always check your URL to make sure it’s secure. Specifically, you want to be sure that the web address begins with “https” versus “http.” That one little letter may not seem that important but it means that any communications that take place over the bank’s server are encrypted using an SSL certificate. As long as the “s” is there, any third-party who’s trying to make off with your information won’t be able to intercept its transfer between your device and the server.
5. Put a lock on your phone
In 2013, there were 3.1 million reports of smartphone theft in the U.S. Another 1.4 million were reported as lost and never recovered. Those are some pretty scary numbers if you’re doing most of your online banking over your phone. What’s even more worrisome is that just 36 percent of smartphone users say they use a lock code or PIN to protect their device.
If you’ve downloaded your online bank’s mobile app, putting a passcode on your phone is a must. You should also make sure that the app doesn’t store your username or password automatically. If you’re using Mint to manage multiple online bank accounts, be aware that you can remotely delete your account if your phone ever comes up missing.
6. Check your accounts regularly
Checking your online accounts at least once a day is a wise move if you’re concerned about a hacking threat. If you see any credits or debits that you don’t recognize, that’s an easy tip-off that someone may have getting a hold of your password or account number. Any time you see something that looks off, you shouldn’t hesitate to let your bank know right away. If you wait to report it, you risk losing your fraud protection for unauthorized charges.
7. Log out when you’re done
Logging out of your online bank account once you’re done checking it seems obvious but not everyone takes the time to do it. If you normally use your a mobile banking app, it should log you out automatically after a set period of time but you’re better off doing it yourself. That way, you’re not leaving a window of time open for hackers to climb through.
Even if you don’t have an online-only bank, you should still follow these same precautions when logging in to your bank online or on your smartphone.