Every day, we rely a little more on the internet to do things like work, shop, connect with others, and even manage our money. With this reliance comes a legitimate concern about security and privacy, especially when it comes to your hard-earned cash. Online banking is simple and convenient; instead of spending hours in a physical bank dealing with paperwork, you can track and manage your funds with a few smartphone clicks.
Unfortunately, online banking makes it just as easy for shady characters to compromise your funds’ security. Criminals no longer need to plan elaborate heists to rob banks; all they need is your personal information to potentially siphon funds from your bank account. Although most banks have strong security measures in place to prevent fraud, there are some things you can do to keep your information safe online.
Use strong passwords and don’t let them stagnate
Passwords are difficult to remember and manage, so many people resort to using easy-to-remember character combinations and then using the same password across most or all of their online accounts. The statistics show how common this poor security strategy is. According to a Google study conducted in collaboration with The Harris Poll in 2019, 13% of people in the United States reuse the same password across all of their online accounts, and 52% reuse passwords across multiple accounts.
Using that strategy with your online banking password puts you in grave danger. Because hackers are constantly attempting to brute-force their way into online accounts, if your password is frequently used or easy to guess, you are more likely to be hacked. To be safe, you should change your password every 90 days. Make sure you’re using a strong character combination as well. Here are some pointers to help you choose a secure password (via Google):
Use longer passwords.
Create a mix of upper and lowercase letters.
Include numbers and special characters.
Do not use common password combinations, such as “1234” or “passw0rd.”
Do not use personal information, such as your name, birthday, pets’ names, etc.
Some platforms will tell you how strong or weak your password is, but if you’re signing in to one that doesn’t, you can test its strength with a password checker like this one from Kaspersky. We also recommend that you use a password manager to manage your passwords.
Don’t open suspicious email links
Even if the message appears to be legitimate, never open your banking platform by tapping or clicking a link in an email. Some hackers send phishing emails that appear to be from your bank in the hopes that you will enter your login information on a bogus website. Always retype the genuine URL into your browser before using it to avoid becoming a victim of such phishing attacks (via ABA). Alternatively, you could bookmark your bank’s authenticated website so you know which one to use each time.
Hover over an email link for a split second before opening it. Typically, you will be given a preview of the destination URL and will be able to determine whether it is legitimate. Ignore any emails that request personal information, such as credit card numbers or other sensitive information. Banks, in general, will not request your information via email due to the security risks involved. If you receive an email requesting information, contact your bank to ensure that the request is legitimate before disclosing any personal information.
Use two-factor authentication
Two-factor authentication, or 2FA, is a security measure that requires an additional level of verification in addition to a password. The second factor could be a one-time code sent via SMS, an automated phone call to confirm your account, a prompt that appears in an authenticator app, or something similar. Even if your password is leaked, hackers or identity thieves will have difficulty accessing your online banking platform if you have 2FA enabled.
In addition to protecting your online banking information, two-factor authentication is a standard security measure for all of your other online accounts. Here’s why you should always enable two-factor authentication if you haven’t already. For many of us, 2FA appears to be yet another hoop to jump through before we can access our accounts, but the good news is that the FIDO Alliance is working on permanently eliminating passwords. Passwords and their associated issues will likely disappear one day, but until then, you should enable 2FA to be extra safe.
Stay away from public Wi-Fi networks
It’s fairly well known that public Wi-Fi poses a security risk. Why? Hackers can create Wi-Fi hotspots that users can connect to and use to steal any unencrypted data sent over the network. Furthermore, some sensitive data may be discovered on a public network that is actively monitored with sniffing software (via EFF). Because of this risk, you should avoid using your online banking platforms while connected to a public Wi-Fi network.
If you have no other choice, make sure you take precautions to protect your data. Always check that you are browsing secure sites, for example, by looking for “https” in the site’s URL, which activates the lock icon in your browser. Also, whenever you need to connect to public Wi-Fi, use a virtual private network (VPN). When your data is transmitted over a public network, VPNs scramble it and render it unreadable. Without a VPN, your internet service provider — or worse, a hacker — could see which websites you visit while connected to the Wi-Fi network.
Sign up for banking alerts
Every day, we receive far too many annoying notifications on our smartphones, and you may be tempted to opt out of receiving alerts from your bank as a result, but this is not recommended. Even if you don’t want to receive promotional emails, you should always sign up for instant notifications when there’s a new transaction on your bank account (via Experian). Most banks let customers choose which alerts they want to receive, and the following are the categories you should always sign up for:
New credit and debit card transactions
Personal information updates
If you receive an alert about suspicious activity on your account, contact your bank immediately and, if possible, temporarily freeze your account to prevent new transactions from being processed. Without a doubt, online banking is convenient, but it also exposes you to the risk of losing sensitive data and even money. Implementing all of these tips, if you haven’t already, may help ensure that your banking information does not end up in the wrong hands.