It’s unfortunate that our society has gotten to the point that we really can’t trust institutions until they’ve proven themselves. All too often, the evening news clambers over a story about how a bank bilked its customers, investment professionals stole millions of dollars from retirees, and any of a number of people got rich from taking advantage of others. Online scams are everywhere, so it must be asked: How can consumers balance the convenience of banking and shopping online while protecting not just their personal information, but their credit, checking and savings accounts, as well? Is it really safe to do business online? Should you expect to get scammed at some point, and just buy the insurance for it the way some companies want? How can you protect yourself without going overboard and paying hundreds of dollars per month?
First off, take a breath. You might be surprised how many transactions are processed every day without a problem. it pays to remember that online, as in the real world, if something sounds too good to be true, than you can bet that it IS too good to be true. Although it may not seem to be the case all the time, common sense still prevails in the online world. You’ve just got to see the scams for what they are. You’re not going to find a new car for half off MSRP, and you’re not going to find an investment that’s guaranteed to double your money in 30 days. You’re not going to ever inherit twenty million dollars from a war-torn country’s king, and that mail-order spouse just might be more than you bargained for!
There has been some good news in recent years that should set your mind at ease. For every advance that hackers make toward stealing your financial information, corporations are fighting to limit their customers’ exposure. Advances in security technology and encryption have allowed consumers to feel much more comfortable with doing business online, effectively keeping the petty online crooks at bay. Sure, nothing is impermeable, particularly when it’s a serious computer professional pulling the strings, but their targets tend not to be little fish (as in you) anyway. All this does not, however, negate the need to avoid taking anything for granted when you’re dealing with online financial transactions. there’s always going to be another scam.
Remember first of all that the money that resides in your bank account is protected, and it’s important to remember that. The protection comes in the form of the bank itself, which is liable for protecting not just the funds of your accounts, but also your personal information, user names and passwords used to access and use those accounts, as well. Additionally, even if the bank itself were to be cleared out in a massive online bank robbery, you’d still be covered under the FDIC up to certain limits depending on what kind of account it is. That doesn’t mean you can rest on your heels, though. This protection is a two-way street.
If you leave a notebook of your passwords laying around while you have strangers walking through your home (such as might happen if you’re trying to sell your house) than you’re practically asking to be taken advantage of. The bank has done their part, but why haven’t you? Avoid writing down your passwords or using easily guessed passwords - such as the names of your pets, children, spouse or parents. Try using anagrams of less easily guessed things, or just come up with something silly that you’ll remember, but has no specific tie to your life. Something like “B35tM0nK3y3ver!” or something similar to it, works well as a password because it uses numerous different characters that are apparently randomized, but you will still be able to remember just how great that monkey was when you sign in, so you won’t have to write the password down. It’s silly, memorable, and hard to work out on the keyboard. It’s just the thing to foil would-be information thieves!
Don’t let yourself get taken advantage of, but at the same time, don’t be afraid to give electronic banking a go. There are plenty of upsides to web-based banking and commerce, but you have to be aware of what’s going on around you when you get started. That way, you know you’ll be safe!