Are Internet Bank Accounts Safe?

Internet banking offers benefits to customers and banks

John Herbert Dillinger was an Midwestern American bank robber in the early 1930s

John Herbert Dillinger was a Midwestern American bank robber in the early 1930s (photo: wikimedia.org)

The rapid rise of internet banking has been a key feature of the financial world over the last decade and a half. There are now banks that only operate online, and traditional brick and mortar banks have websites that allow customers to access information on their accounts and perform various transactions from the comfort of their own home or office.

While online banking offers greater convenience and cost savings to customers, it has also been a big plus for the banks in improving customer service and saving on valuable staff time. Yet for all the great gains associated with online banking it is not without its risks. Just as brick-and-mortar banks are targets of armed robbery, internet banking customers are targets of cyber-crime.  Online bank robberies may be less violent, but the losses are comparable.

Is your online bank real or a scam?

If you’re one of the many people attracted to the idea of banking online you might notice an advertisement for a new internet bank offering particularly attractive terms. This may be a genuine new bank or, quite possibly, a scam. If you click on a link that appears to go to your own bank’s website, you might be taken to a decoy site set up by web criminals.

One of the primary goals of online-banking scammers is to steal your personal information. They will use all the tricks of their trade to get your account number, credit card number, and social security number in order to steal money from your account or take out loans in your name. In addition to setting up fake internet bank sites they are masters at creating websites that closely resemble the websites of genuine banks. Customers think they are accessing their own bank accounts, but in reality they are supplying their user-names and passwords to criminals.

How to avoid internet banking traps

John Dillinger (photo: wikimedia.org)

Chicago was the site of Dillinger's highest profile crimes (photo: wikimedia.org)

With a little forethought it is possible to avoid falling into the traps of web criminals. Before providing any personal details to a banking website, take steps to verify the legitimacy of the site. Even if the site appears to belong to the bank where you have your account, unless it is a link you have been using regularly, you cannot be sure it is genuine. First of all, look at the URL for a misspelling.  Fraudulent banking websites duplicate as closely as possible the URL address of the bank they are pretending to be.  To do this, they make a few small changes to the address and assume that no one will notice.

You should also check out whatever details are provided about the bank’s main office location and phone number to verify that they belong to your bank. If you live in the United States and are considering opening a new account through a website, you should also verify that deposits are insured by the FDIC.  Changing your password regularly and avoiding the use of your birth date or other easily-guessed personal information can also help keep your account secure.

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