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It is safe to bank online. But like financial institutions that implement a broad range of security measures, you can also take steps to keep your financial and personal details out of the hands of hackers when banking online. Here's how.
How Financial Institutions Secure Your Bank Information Online
Online banks and credit unions take protecting your financial and personal information very seriously. If your online bank is insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), it will offer the same protections as the brick-and-mortar FDIC-insured bank down the road. While each financial institution may have a different approach or use different security measures, most use similar methods to safeguard customer data. These might include:
- Firewalls: Bank firewalls provide protection against both in- and out-of-network cyber attacks and block unauthorized access to your computer or network.
- Antimalware and antivirus programs: These programs are used to identify and prevent malicious software and viruses from spreading to your computer or home network.
- Secure socket layer (SSL) encryption: Active encryption technology provides a secure connection between your browser and your bank's website, allowing you to fill in your personal information, transfer funds, pay bills and look at account details without worrying about hackers.
- Multifactor authentication: Many banks and credit unions require two-factor or multistep authentication before accessing your account. For example, when you log in to your bank's website, you may be prompted to enter a password or PIN. You might also be required to enter a security code sent to a registered device or be asked to answer a security question.
- Cookies: After your initial login, your bank may place an HTTP cookie on your computer, which is used to authenticate your computer each time you log back in. If you erase all cookies and browsing data when you leave your bank's site, you may be required to enter your complete details when you log in again.
- Automatic log out: As a security measure, many banks log you out automatically after a period of inactivity.
- App authentication: Many banks use integrated biometric—facial, voice, fingerprint or retinal scanning—authentication into their mobile apps as an extra layer of security.
How to Protect Your Information During Online Banking
If the thought of someone stealing money from your bank account has you on edge, there are steps you can take to protect your information when banking online. Using secure networks, visiting reputable sites, creating strong passwords and regularly checking your credit report can keep you from becoming a target. There are also several other ways to protect your information.
- Make sure your banking site is secure. When you visit your bank or credit union's website, make sure it uses "https" and not just "http" in the URL. The "s" at the end means the website's server uses an SSL certificate to prove its identity to browsers like Chrome, Safari and others. You'll also want to look for a padlock in the address bar that shows the site is encrypted. Clicking on the padlock will bring up the site information panel, which gives you details about the security status of the connection.
- Avoid clicking on links. It's best to avoid clicking on any links you receive via email or text, unless you initiated the conversation. Legitimate financial institutions won't ask you to respond with personal or banking details in an email or text, so ignore emails asking you for this information.
- Don't share personal information online. Sharing banking information, personal details, Social Security numbers, checking or savings account numbers, credit card numbers, your PIN and more online is risky and should be avoided at all costs. This is also true about sharing these details via email or text.
- Create strong passwords. Choosing passwords that use a variety of characters, letters (both lowercase and uppercase), symbols and numbers can help keep you protected when logging into your bank. You might also consider changing your password regularly. You should also never share passwords or leave them in plain sight.
- Use a password manager. Using a password manager, such as Google Password Manager or other top password managers, allows you to store all of your passwords in one secure place. It might also show your password health, generate new passwords and even notify you if a password has been compromised.
- Set up multifactor authentication. Setting up multifactor authentication on your banking site can help ensure your safety beyond inputting your password.
- Avoid banking on public Wi-Fi. Banking on public Wi-Fi in high-traffic areas like the airport or in a Starbucks is a recipe for trouble. That's because it is much easier for hackers to track and steal your personal and banking details than when using a private secure network.
- Don't stay logged in to your bank. Although the "keep me signed in" box may appear when you log in to your banking account online, it's probably best not to. As a security measure, most banks will automatically time out after a period of inactivity. But if you walk away from your computer, especially in a public place, logging out keeps someone from viewing your account information while your computer is left unattended.
Online Safety First
Over the years, financial institutions have had to continually bolster their online security features to safeguard customers' accounts against hackers, phishing scams, spyware, viruses, malware and other attacks. It's also important that you personally take precautions to guard against your banking or personal information falling into the wrong hands.
If you are concerned about the security of your online accounts, contact your financial institution right away. You can also take a proactive approach to securing your data by signing up for free credit report monitoring with Experian. It can help detect possible identity fraud and you'll be notified of any changes in your credit profile.
In addition, consider adding a fraud alert to your credit reports, especially if you suspect your information has been compromised. That way, creditors will have to confirm your identity before processing credit applications in your name. You can also contact the FDIC if you think you may have been a victim of banking fraud.