Is crime-free online banking possible?

Online banking has become a regular part of daily life for many of us
Online banking has become a regular part of daily life for many of us
Dr John Steadman, archivist of Portsmouth History Centre based at Portsmouth Central Library     Picture:  Malcolm Wells

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I was with what can be best described as a group of ‘silver surfers’ recently and the conversation got around to online banking.

Almost without exception, they believed the very idea of trusting personal banking to a machine that sent and received confidential information over the internet was a risk too far. It amounted to playing fast and loose with their money.

Approximately 21 million of us now bank online and benefit from the convenience and simplicity it brings to everyday financial transactions.

Despite all the dire warnings about computer fraud, in 10 years of banking on the internet I’ve never once been a sitting duck for cyber criminals. Banks have a huge stake in making sure their account holders’ money is secure, and it’s important not to panic.

Protecting yourself is really down to a large dose of common sense. Here are the essentials to ensure a crime-free experience in the world of armchair banking.

n Don’t fall for obvious fraud

Your bank will never ring you to ask for any personal security information. If the bank does ring you to verify a transaction, ask them to use your secure account online messaging service. Never give out any personal details on social networking sites. Don’t write down PIN numbers and passwords. If you must have a written prompt, disguise it with other number and letter combinations.

n Keep on the ball

You need to be just a tad tech-savvy when using your computer for shopping or banking. In the same way your bank will never call you asking for your personal security information, they’ll also never e-mail you suggesting you reset it. These so-called ‘phishing’ scams come in the form of very convincing look-alike fake websites. Delete them immediately.

Keep your antivirus software up to date, and take up any offer from your bank to install a powerful keystroke application like Rapport. This kills stone dead any attempt by crooks to monitor your online activity and capture security information. Resist publishing any personal information online, especially birthdays, your address, place of birth, pet names, or passport numbers.

n Accept security

The need for personal security is a fact of life. Shred any personal documents before you bin them. Remember if you want the convenience of not having to wait in a long winding queue in a local bank branch, passwords, keys, and memorable names are a necessary trade off to keep your money safe.

Never neglect any letters or calls from lenders or debt collection agencies about items you’ve not bought or accounts you’ve not opened. They’re all serious signs someone may have stolen your identity.

n Regularly check your account

Whether you bank online or not, it makes sense to check your account regularly for any suspicious activity or mistakes. Get into the habit of checking bank, credit card, and financial statements regularly. Online it’s a doddle. Just log in and it’s all available at a click of the mouse.

n Make use of bank security measures

Online banking fraud has dropped away dramatically after most banks supplied their customers with a random number generator. This is a little gadget that looks like a calculator, and generates a number for you to key into your account to verify genuine transactions and money transfers. If you’ve got one, use it.

n Sensible shopping

Always be on your guard when online shopping. While there are measures in place to prevent problems happening when logged into popular shopping venues, they do not have the same level of security provided by your bank.