The 5 Biggest Mistakes You Can Make Banking Online

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Forgetting to take out the trash. Running late for a date. Leaving dinner in the oven for too long. Most of our goofs have fairly minor consequences. But when it comes to online banking, a simple mistake can have big consequences.

Some $15 billion was stolen from consumers last year, and with new chip technology that's starting to foil counterfeit card fraud, criminals are out to find other ways to plunder your bank account. What can you do to prevent that? Protecting your financial information and exercising common sense are good places to start.

Knowing what not to do can be just as helpful. Steer clear of the following slip-ups, and your money should stay where it belongs — with you.

1. Ignoring your accounts

Set aside a few minutes each day to monitor the activity in your checking and savings accounts. This way, you'll spot fraudulent transactions and stop cybercriminals before they can put an even bigger dent in your wallet.

If you notice a purchase that you didn’t make, contact your bank or credit union immediately. They can help you set things straight.

2. Having a standard password

Once hackers successfully infiltrate a large retailer and get their hands on customers’ passwords, they often use bots to automate logging in to accounts at big banks, says Shirley Inscoe, a senior analyst at research and consulting firm Aite Group. If your username and password are the same, watch out.

There's a quick fix: Create a unique username and password for your bank's website. Using the same login credentials across all your online accounts — email, Facebook, Amazon, etc. — means that a single hacking incident could put your sensitive financial information at risk.

Update your banking password regularly. Store it in a safe place. And, most of all, keep criminals on their toes by using a combination of lower and uppercase letters, symbols and numbers. "Password123" won't cut it.

3. Being careless with your phone

From calling and texting to getting driving directions to consuming media, we rely on our iPhones and Android devices for all kinds of tasks, including banking. One out of every two smartphone owners uses mobile banking, according to a Federal Reserve study. Here, too, you should take care.

“Consider all the places where you use your personal information, where it’s stored or where it’s transmitted,” says Al Pascual, research director and head of fraud and security at Javelin Strategy & Research. “That’s not just protecting your laptop or desktop, that’s making sure that your mobile device is secure.”

Use only official mobile banking apps, downloaded from the iTunes or Google Play stores, Pascual says. Better yet, go to your bank's website first; if it has an app, your bank will have a link where you can click to download it. These apps generally are safer than using a web browser. If your bank doesn’t have an app and you need to transact on the go, make sure when you visit its website that the address starts with “https://” — that means the site takes increased security measures. And avoid logging in to your bank account over public Wi-Fi, as this can be a hotbed for password-hungry criminals.

4. Shunning security features

If someone gains access to your account and you aren’t enrolled in services like email and text alerts, that person will be able to use your information for 75% longer, according to Javelin. That means greater losses for you.

Take advantage of these types of services. They are sometimes free and won’t inundate your inbox with spam. Beyond providing security updates, some banks and credit unions text their customers when their balances fall below a certain amount. That can save you money on overdraft fees. It also can keep you from having to use public Wi-Fi at, say, the mall to check whether you can afford to buy that pair of jeans.

5. Assuming the worst about online banking

Online banking might seem like a scary proposition. The truth is that banks and credit unions spend hundreds of millions of dollars each year to bolster their online security and keep their firewalls strong.

Inscoe says the very largest banks are at the greatest risk because "they're being constantly bombarded by these hackers." But they also have the deepest pockets, which makes them more likely to be able to afford the very best protective mechanisms.

The convenience of online banking is hard to argue with. With a little caution — doing the right things and not doing the wrong ones — you can have confidence in it as well.

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