Working with your money online, be it paying a bill or shopping for a treat for yourself, can bring much needed enjoyment and ease to your life. Even so, Internet transactions have their risks. The good news is, if you're willing to be proactive, it's pretty easy to address the top online money fears.
Rod Griffin, Director of Public Education at Experian, notes that identity theft commonly occurs due to malware, phishing emails and shopping unsecured sites. He recommends that you:
- stick to known sites
- check that website URLs begin with "https"
- avoid unsecured public WiFi
- read website privacy policies
- avoid posting personal data such as your full name, address or birthdate, including on social media
- monitor children's activity to protect both their identity and yours
"Some identity thieves gain all of their victims' information through spyware, malware and keystroke loggers installed on non-secure computers," Griffin adds. "By keeping up-to-date with your computer's antivirus and having a firewall in place, you are adding an essential layer of defense needed for even the occasional online shopper."
Many of Griffin's tips for avoiding identity theft also protect you from unauthorized withdrawals. But an easy switch he recommends that adds another layer of protection is to swap your debit card for a low-limit credit card. The low limit prevents would-be thieves from making big buys, and most credit cards also offer better protections than your debit card would. For example, credit card issuers can't hold you liable for any more than $50 worth of fraudulent transactions. Use your debit card, though, and you could face a liability rate of up to $500, as well as the penalties and hassles associated with an overdrawn account.
Additionally, Griffin says not to save passwords or payment information on your devices. This protects you against both outright theft and accidental buys from children.
To make sure you've got records related to your Internet transactions:
- opt for email or text-based confirmations
- take and save screenshots
- download and save your statements or transaction history (companies can have a limit on how far back you can download, such as 90 days)
- download and save chat histories
- create a backup of your data files (tools can automate this) and encrypt all copies
Getting scammed by fake sites or applications
Griffin admits that it can be hard to tell whether a website or program is legitimate. "If you are ever leery about a website/app and are questioning its legitimacy, then don't use it," he says. "It won't be worth the loss if the website/app turns out to be a scam." But he offers the following ways to check out what you're viewing:
- Call the company using the number on their site. Automated responses, disconnected numbers or no answer during regular business hours are all signs of potential trouble, as is a lack of any contact information.
- Run an online search of the business and check reviews.
- Look for grammar or spelling errors or text that doesn't make sense.
Working with money online carries legitimate hazards, as cybercriminals are using increasingly sophisticated methods to hack and steal information. But taking the time to use the above strategies along with regular credit monitoring can reduce your risk, and means you don't have to sacrifice the convenience Internet money management offers. When in doubt, always trust your instincts.
Wanda Thibodeaux is a freelance writer and sole proprietor of Takingdictation.com. Her work has appeared in online and print publications such as The Finance Base, Legal Beagle, Bankaroo and Inc.com.
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