How to keep the money in your bank account safe -- online and offline: Internet ScamBusters #92
Today's issue was inspired by a very disturbing statistic we read last week. According to the research organization, Gartner Inc., illegal access to bank accounts is one of the fastest-growing financial crimes today.
Gartner estimates that during the past year, almost 2 million people in the US have had money stolen from their bank accounts! The average loss was $1200, with a total of more than $2 billion in losses for the year.
Today's issue explores this problem -- and shows you how to keep the money in your bank account safe -- online and offline.
Before we get going though, we wanted to address a question by a subscriber about our recent issue on florist scams. The subscriber asked us if we include companies like FTD in florist scams.
Answer: No. There are a number of companies like FTD that are certainly not scams. These companies let customers know what the charges will be (so customers do not get bogus and unexpected charges).
If you missed that article on florist scams, check it out. We also include a new link to a site on roses that includes some interesting information on growing and enjoying roses that was recommended by our local florist.
OK. Let's get going...
How Safe Is The Money in Your Bank Account?
Today's article is not about what happens if your bank fails. Although this can be a real problem, most bank accounts in the US are insured by the FDIC to cover losses up to $100,000.
Action: We certainly recommend that you always make sure that your bank is financially sound and that your bank account deposits are fully covered by the FDIC.
However, today we focus on how to keep the money in your bank account safe from scammers and thieves. We'll talk about keeping your money safe through both online and offline banking.
Let's start with online banking, since that's where the problems are growing fastest.
Online banking certainly provides great convenience -- and can save you a lot of time. Online banking lets you check your balances, transfer money between accounts, and pay bills.
However, you need to be vigilant and protect your online bank account. Here are some tips on how you can protect your bank account and keep it safe from theft:
1. PAY ATTENTION. Log in to your account on a regular basis, even if you don't have any transactions to do. Simply take a look. It only takes a moment to review your information so that you know what's going on -- and to make sure nothing is wrong.
Action: If you do discover a problem or a discrepancy, contact your bank immediately.
2. KEEP IT PRIVATE. Don't be tempted to do your online banking in the library or the local Internet cafe. You have no way of knowing who has access to that information -- or how they'll treat it.
Plus, there may be keystroke loggers on the computer, which make it very easy for a thief to steal your private information.
(A keystroke logger is a hardware device or software program that monitors each keystroke a user types on the keyboard. This information can then easily be transmitted to the scammer, who then can have access to user names, passwords, and other confidential information.)
Action: Never use public computers for transactions that involve private information.
3. INITIATE CONTACT YOURSELF. Don't ever try to access your account through an emailed link -- no matter how much that email looks like it came from your bank.
These kinds of emails that request you to log into your bank account are most likely 'phishing' scams. We've written quite a bit about these scams in past issues. For more info on phishing scams, click here.
Plus, don't give out any personal information if someone who claims to be from your bank contacts you, by email or by phone.
Action: The best way to be reasonably sure that you really are dealing with your financial institute is to always initiate the contact yourself.
4. CHECK FOR SECURE CONNECTIONS. When you visit the bank's site, make sure that the page where you type your info always starts with https: The 's' means that the URL is on a secure server.
Action: Never type confidential information or passwords into a non-secure page.
5. CHANGE YOUR PASSWORD REGULARLY. And don't tell anyone what it is, or allow anyone else to use it. Even people you trust should not have access to your online banking password.
Action: Change your password at least once a quarter. If you suspect there may be a problem, immediately change your password and call your bank.
6. INSTALL BARRIERS. If you are doing online banking, your computer should have the following software installed:
- A firewall. Firewalls 'block the door' to your computer so 'hackers' can't access the information on your hard drive. To learn more about firewalls, click here.
- Spyware blockers. Spyware is any program that secretly downloads onto your system when you access the Internet, often through pop-up ads or attachments.
The software gathers information about you from your computer and sends it to 'third parties' -- who could be scammers who will steal your money. You can learn more about spyware here:
- Anti-Virus software. Scammers sometimes send virus 'trojan horse' programs by email, and anti-virus software installed on your system can stop these. To learn more about anti-virus software, click here.
Action: Install a good firewall, spyware blocking software, and updated anti-virus software program.
Action: Report all problems and suspicious activity immediately.
There are lots of ways that thieves can gain access to your bank account info offline as well. Here are a few precautions for you to take:
- As with online banking, pay attention. Don't just get your bank statement and toss it on the 'to-do' pile on your desk. Your to-do pile is probably way too big, and it might be days before you get around to opening that envelope. You can't spot a problem if you're not paying attention -- and if you don't spot an existing problem, it could cost you a great deal.
Action: Read your bank statements as soon as you get them.
- Be very careful with your ATM card. Don't lend your ATM card to anyone or share your password. And never write your PIN number on your ATM card or have it anywhere near your ATM card (in the event that your wallet gets stolen).
- Shield your transactions when you use your ATM card so no one can see what you are keying in.
- Check to make sure that no hardware devices have been added to an ATM machine you're using.
These devices, called 'Skimmer' devices, can record the info from the magnetic strip on your ATM card along with your PIN number. They take less than 15 seconds for the scammer to install and uninstall them.
Some Skimmer devices are installed over the keypad on an ATM machine -- and may include warnings, supposedly from the bank, about how this equipment is being tested. If you see anything like this, do NOT use the ATM machine.
- Shred old and unused checks, as well as any unwanted paper that has your bank account number on it.
- Never give anyone a signed blank check.
Check out our article on credit card fraud: 21 tips to protect yourself. Much of this article is also useful to help you avoid bank fraud.
For more on the Gartner study, visit:
If you do find a fraudulent transaction, report it to your bank immediately. Your bank is required to refund your money as long as you notify the bank within 60 days of receiving your statement. However, the sooner you begin the process, the faster action can be taken to stop the fraud.
If you follow these suggestions, there are no guarantees (since these folks are very, very clever), but you will have a very good chance of keeping your bank account safe from scammers and thieves.
Time to wrap up. We have a really important issue for you next week that's a bit different, so be sure to watch for it.