With online banking and omnipresent Wifi, accessing your money while on the go has never been easier. But is it safe? Whether you’re checking your balance from your phone or shopping from your neighborhood Starbucks, watch out for these four red flags—and keep your funds on lockdown.
1. Wifi hotspots: There’s a reason that you get that “shared computer” prompt when you try to log into the wireless network in most public areas. While shared computers and networks offer a valuable resource in public spaces like coffee shops, libraries, and airports, they’re inherently less safe than a home or personal network. You’re sharing them with whomever else is in your area might be logged on at the time, and there’s no guarantee that person has your best interests in mind. Even if the network offers basic encryption, err on the side of caution and assume any information can be grabbed. Don’t log in to your online banking or investment platform on a shared network or computer, and always log out of any accounts (including email and Facebook) when you’re finished. As a rule, you shouldn’t be using the same exact password across all of your accounts, but especially not if you frequently use shared computers; in the event that someone does gain access to one of your accounts, it will be all too easy for them to hack into all of them. Mix it up and save yourself the headache.
2. “Alerts” from your financial institution: Even at tax time, the IRS won’t email, text, or tweet taxpayers for information about their filing no matter how sophisticated the communication may appear. The same goes for your bank; they might send an email with a link to an encrypted site before prompting a log-in, but they won’t ask for passwords or account verification within an email. If you receive an email asking you for your Social Security number, account number, or password it probably isn’t legitimate. Do not respond to the email. Instead, forward it along to the customer service department at your bank or tax-filing agency. Never follow a link from an email; instead, if the information appears legitimate, go directly to the organization’s homepage through a secured browser. If someone claiming to be a representative calls at home and asks for personal information, such as PIN or password prompts, you should hang up and call the company’s toll-free number immediately.
3. Online shopping: If you’ve done a fair amount of online shopping (we won’t judge…) then you’ve probably seen the option to store a credit card for easier checkout in the future. Sometimes the retailer may store the credit card information without asking, or hide the request in the fine print of the sale. This makes checkout more convenient for you, but it also makes break-ins more convenient for hackers. One break-in will not only yield a list of favored beauty products or wish-listed books—both of which are highly valuable to retailers and advertisers—but also access to your financial information. So take the time to enter your card every time. The extra security will pay off in the long run, and hey—sometimes slowing down to really think about what you’re purchasing will save you money on impulse buys, too!
4. ATMs: You use them all the time, and since they’re connected to your bank you probably think they’re perfectly safe. Well, you’d be wrong. Despite the many warnings about the dangers lurking near ATM machines—especially those in public places like local delis, drugstores, or bars—debit card skimming is a fast-growing business for criminals. Clever criminals can place skimmers inside the debit card slot, and then all it takes is a camera angled at the PIN keypad, and they can create duplicate cards and PINs—thereby emptying their victims’ accounts. It sounds scary, but it’s more common than you’d think. So always be hyper-alert when using an ATM. Be wary of lurkers, check for card slots that appear cracked, crooked, or appear to be thicker than normal, and hold a hand over the keypad when entering a PIN. And use only machines from recognizable banks; independent machines may have been purchased and placed by thieves themselves.