Beautifying Your Financial Picture

Protect Yourself From Online Fraud With These 3 Tips

by Darryl Nguyen

Online banking has become so popular that it's now preferred by a higher percentage of banking customers than those who prefer branch or telephone banking. Today, 36% of banking occurs online and 29% is done by mobile phone. And there's a good reason for this. Online banking is very convenient in comparison with having to drive to the bank and stand in a line. But the trend is not without its risks. Online fraud is a serious risk that online banking customers need to be concerned about. This is different from identity theft (though that is also a concern). In cases of online fraud, a criminal simply cleans out your bank account overnight before moving on to the next victim. Take a look at how you can protect yourself from this type of cyber attack.

Beware of Your Email

One of the most common methods used by online crooks to get the information they need to drain your bank account is phishing. The word is "phishing" is a mashup of the words password and fishing, and like fishermen, fraudsters hook you with appetizing bait, in the form of emails that look like they're coming from your bank.

The way it works is simple – you receive an email asking you to log into your bank account for some innocuous-sounding reason, like verifying your address or phone number. The email contains a link that takes you to a dummy page that looks like your bank's login page. When you put in your email or username and password, and pass any security questions, the thief can collect that information. Then they have everything that they need to transfer your money into accounts that they control, often located in foreign countries. What's scary is just how common this is – in only one year, two million consumers fell for a phishing scam.

How can you protect yourself? The best way is to avoid clicking links. If you receive an email asking you to log into your account, open a new page and type the web address in yourself. That way, you can be sure that you're going to the correct page. If you receive an email from your bank that looks suspicious or doesn't make sense, contact the bank to verify whether or not they really sent it before taking any action.

Avoid Trojan Horses

Another common scam is a Trojan horse virus. This is a virus disguised to look like something else. It could be a link or attachment in an email or something that you download from a website. Once the virus infects your computer, it installs software that detects when you bring up an online banking site and logs your keystrokes, recording your username, password, and any other sensitive information, and sends that information back to the thief. Because the virus doesn't obviously harm your computer, you won't be aware of the theft until it's too late and your bank account has been cleaned out.

Once again, you can protect yourself by approaching your email with caution. Don't click links or open attachments that are sent from email addresses that you don't know, and even if the email address does look familiar, trust your instincts – if the message doesn't make sense or looks "off" in any way, err on the side of caution. However, you also need to be careful when you're using the internet. Don't download anything that doesn't come from a trusted and reputable source. Use anti-virus software that not only scans your computer viruses, but that also warns you or blocks you from malicious sites containing malware or spyware.

Watch Your Back

In much the same way that identity theft can be done in very low-tech ways, like digging through the trash for sensitive documents, crooks can also use low-tech means to get the information they need to commit online fraud. It's as simple as looking over your shoulder when you're logging into your online banking site at the coffee shop or library. An experienced thief with good eyesight can get all the information that they need just by being unobtrusive while watching you in a public place.

You're better off not accessing sensitive web pages like your banking site at all when you're out in public – using a public network can also make you more vulnerable to cyber attacks. However, if you can't avoid it, be aware of your surroundings. Move to an unoccupied section of the room, stand or sit with your back to the wall, or tilt your screen to block it from view. Make your transaction as fast as possible, and then log all the way off, don't just close the page.

Online banking is a great thing for customers, but you need to use it wisely – don't let the convenience lull you into forgetting to take security measures. A careless mistake with your online banking information could come with a big cost. For more tips on making sure you're using your online banking correctly, contact a company like Western Bank.