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Banking and shopping online really can save you a bunch of time and money.
But unfortunately it can also put your financial information and your identity at risk of being stolen.
Online fraud and identity theft are very real concerns, and the dangers seem to be increasing by the day.
But that being said, there are a few simple steps you can take to make shopping and banking online about as safe as buying groceries at your local super-market.
Here a just a few of them:
1 – Set up and use Two-Factor Authentication for your bank account and every other online account that supports it. This is by far the single most effective way to protect your online accounts from hackers and thieves.
Once two-factor authentication has been activated on an account, a hacker or scammer would have to have physical access to your mobile phone before he/she would be able to log in to your account!
Two-factor authentication generally works something like this: You enter your username and password as you always have, and then the website will send a code to your mobile phone via a text message.
In order to finish logging into the account, you must enter the code you received in the text. If you can’t provide the code, you can’t get log into the account even if you know the password.
This post explains the benefits of two-factor authentication in more detail.
If your bank supports two-factor authentication (and it probably does), you’ll be able to set it up from within your account’s “Settings” or “Preferences” section.
2 – Have a dedicated computer that you only use for online shopping and conducting business with your bank and other financial institutions.
Then use your “everyday computer” for checking email, getting on Facebook and completing all of your other Internet tasks.
Your dedicated banking and shopping computer doesn’t have to be the latest and greatest model. As long as it’s malware-free and runs well it should be just fine for what you’ll be doing with it.
In need be, you can order a refurbished computer from a Microsoft Authorized Refurbisher through Amazon for as little as $100 – and it might even come with a monitor!
3 – Install a high-quality antivirus program on your dedicated shopping/banking computer and keep it updated with the latest virus definition database files. Just click the app’s “Update” button every time you start up the PC.
It’s also a good idea to occasionally run an on-demand anti-malware program to supplement the scans by your regular antivirus software. For example, I scan my PC with the free version of Malwarebytes once a week.
If at all possible, keep this dedicated “financial” email address free of malware and off of junk mailing lists. Don’t use it to sign up for “freebie” offers or even to email your friends. Only use it when your banking or shopping activities require the use of an email address.
5 – Never click the links in any email that appears to be from your bank or other online service. Instead, visit the website directly at its official URL and log in to your account, then perform whatever task the email said you need to complete from there.
Scammers use fraudulent emails claiming to be from banks, PayPal and other financial institutions every day to trick folks into giving them their personal information or direct access to their accounts. Don’t let it happen to you!
Note: There is one exception to this rule. You can safely click the link in any email that you receive as part of signing up for a new (legitimate) service.
For example, a service will almost always require you to click a link in an email to confirm that the email address you just gave them is valid. The links in those types of “confirmation emails” are safe.
Read this post for tips on recognizing and avoiding fraudulent emails.
6 – Never give out any personal or financial information over the phone to someone who calls out of the blue claiming to be from your bank or other financial institution.
Instead, ask the caller for his/her name and telephone extension, then call them back at a number that you know to be that institution’s real phone number.
Never rely on Caller ID to provide the true identity of a caller because phone numbers can be easily spoofed, and it happens all the time.
7 – Whenever possible, try to limit your online shopping activities to well-known and trusted companies such as Amazon, Walmart and others that have a reputation for quality, customer service and Internet safety.
You can also Google your favorite brick-and-mortar retailers to see if they have a secure website to order from. I recommend thoroughly checking out any online retailers that you have never heard of before opening an account and placing an order.
8 – Never log in to your bank account, an online retailer account or any other type of online service that requires a username and password when connected to a public, unencrypted Wi-Fi connection without using a Virtual Private Network (VPN).
Those “open” networks leave your personal information wide open for hackers and scammers to intercept it.
It’s easy to identify an “open” unencrypted network. If you can connect to it without entering an access code or password, don’t use it unless you’re also using a VPN!
Well, that’s about it. While few things in life are completely fool-proof, the tips listed above can help you keep your financial life and identity safe from hackers and fraudsters.
Bonus tip: Malware can “leak” your personal and financial information to scammers and leave you subject to identity theft, and worse.
Read this post for a step-by-step guide to completely ridding your PC of viruses and other forms of malware.