From shopping to banking transactions, people do a lot with their money online. In fact, studies show that 51% of shoppers make most of their purchases online1 and 43% of mobile users with bank accounts used a medium of mobile banking in 20152. As these trends continue to grow, the importance of protecting your money online grows as well.
Most retailers and banks use state-of-the-art technology to try to keep your financial information safe but you should do your part as well. Being aware of how internet crime occurs could help prevent you from becoming a victim.
Here are some pointers that may help keep your money safe online:
Use strong passwords
Passwords are your first line of defense against cybercriminals so it’s important to have a unique password for all personal accounts. A strong password should be long, complicated and difficult for anyone to guess. Here’s a list of password safety techniques from the United States Computer Emergency Readiness Team (US-CERT):
- Use a different password for every system and account
- Don’t create passwords with personal information that can be easily guessed
- Utilize a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters
- Develop suggestions and hints for remembering complicated passwords
Keep your devices secure
In addition to hacking your accounts, cybercriminals can also get to your money through software installed on your device3. In order to help keep your devices clean of malware and other malicious programs, you can install antivirus and antispyware programs. Many new devices come with these programs already installed but it’s important to know what type of security you have on your operating system.
Additionally, one of the simplest ways to protect your laptop, tablet or smartphone is to lock it when you’re finished. Taking the time to enter your password on a lockscreen is certainly worth the added layer of security and should become routine over time.
Research app security
If you plan to download a new app to your smartphone or tablet, you should always check the security protocols first. The app you download doesn’t have to be about money or banking whatsoever - cybercriminals will just use it as a platform to gain access to your device. Once inside your operating system, they can hack into other apps to steal credit numbers, debit card numbers or withdraw money. If you ever have doubts on the authenticity or security of an app, do some research before downloading the software.
Here’s a quick checklist to perform before you download a new app:
- Research the developer of the app
- Research the website hosting the app (if applicable)
- Look for user reviews
- Monitor device functionality after install
If you suspect the app of any wrongdoing, delete the app immediately and contact your wireless carrier.
Be wise with Wi-Fi
Signing onto public Wi-Fi may be convenient but it can also be risky. If you plan to access your bank account or buy items online, it may be prudent to wait until you get home to use your secure network. Be especially careful when connecting to free Wi-Fi through public places like coffee shops or hotels. Cybercriminals will often create a phony connection very similar to the legit connection to hack your information4. If you feel unsure, ask an employee of the establishment for the legitimate Wi-Fi access point.
It’s also important to make sure the wireless network you use is secure, not just the websites you visit. When you’re signed into a secure network, all the information you send over the internet is protected. However, when using a secure website, only the information you send to and from that website is protected.
Avoid suspicious websites
Another common tactic used by cybercriminals are phishing websites or fake websites that are nearly identical to the site they’re copying. The goal of these websites is to trick you into making a purchase or providing personal or banking information they can use to steal your money. Although they may appear legitimate at first, most phishing websites have noticeable flaws that could tip you off.
Here are some common indications of suspicious websites:
- Lack of security encryption (look for the “s” in https:// or a lock symbol)
- Poorly written content/misspelled words
- Unrelated images or links
- Expired security certificates
- Redirected URL
- Invalid contact details
If you suspect a website of being fraudulent or you’ve been a victim of malicious online services, report your experience to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
Keep your guard up
When it comes to keeping your money safe online, the main objective is to stay vigilant. Not everyone is out to scam you but you should approach any online situation involving money with caution. If you follow these tips and use your best judgment, you could decrease the odds of your money falling into the wrong hands.