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Protect Yourself From The Dangers Of Online Banking

Six months ago, I logged into my online bank account, only to find that $6,000 was missing from my savings. After getting over the initial shock, I began doing some research on how and why this happened to my account, and preventative measures to take, so it doesn't happen again in the future.

It Seems Harmless

It's almost too easy how much the Internet has been used to handle personal finances over the past decade. You have your bank account, you enter your info online, and you can pay all your bills, make transfers, and even manage your mortgage all in one convenient place. How great is that? My thought exactly. I literally entered all of my personal information to set up my online banking account. Red flag number one. Once I had the account set up, the ease of the program was so much that I used it for every financial thing involved in my personal finances as well as my family's. Every time I logged on, there was a place for a username and a password, and software that the bank promised could not be hacked. It saved me the time, effort and gas that it normally took to go to the bank, so there was no turning back for me.

The Problem

Almost a year after signing up for my online banking, my computer was infected with a virus. Red flag number two. I lost everything on my computer and had to wipe my hard drive clean. When I finally had the virus cleaned up, I went to log into my online banking to pay a couple of bills that were then overdue from not having access to my computer. Big shocker here. The virus got into my online bank account.

Since the account was affected, it allowed some hacker to get in and access my information, taking out $6,000. The problem is, when a virus attacks, a hacker probably already got into your account somewhere, and sent the virus to you in the form of a bogus email from the bank. In my case, just opening that fraudulent email did the trick. That's something the banks don't tell you.

The Solution

First of all, let me just say that online banking isn't all bad. You can still use it, and I still do, as long as you do so safely. So here's what I've been able to learn to keep my finances safe online after my nightmare of an experience.

For starters, install some good anti-virus and anti-spyware software on your computer. It may not catch all of the viruses that come in, but it will certainly help. Do all that you can to protect your computer, not just your online bank account. Firewalls are also good.

Check the URL. Bank sites that start with "https://" are more secure than the standard "http://". The "s" makes all the difference. Also, try not to check your finances from a friend's computer or one that you don't use often. Make sure you have a secure connection that you use frequently, and try to only check your account information from that connection.

If you get any emails from your bank, DO NOT click any links contained in them unless you are 100% sure that they are actually from your bank. If you can, set your email settings to where you can see a preview of the message before you open its content, and make sure it seems legitimate before you open the message in its entirety. If anything looks fishy, call your bank immediately to check on it.

Pick a complex password for your online banking. Use extra symbols (*$&#_!, etc.), upper and lower case characters, and numbers. Use a different password for all of your accounts, and make sure it's something that friends or anyone close to you wouldn't be able to guess.

A side note: these are just a few tips to help you keep your personal banking information safe online. Worse case scenario, if you still don't trust online banking, is it really so bad to go back to the old-fashioned way of banking? Paper statements, paper bills, transfer slips, and checks? Not really.

The bottom line is, if it happened to me, it can happen to anyone else. Be careful with what sites you're giving out your personal information to, and be wary of any strange activity going on with your online account. Report strange occurrences immediately.

Most of all, watch your back. Online banking is not an evil being out there to attack your finances, you just have to know how to use it correctly. It can still be your friend, as long as you're careful.