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A lot of people now choose to skip bank lines and opt for the convenience of banking online. After all, you can pay bills, check payments and transfer funds from anywhere – even on your mobile phone.

While the benefits outweigh the risks, you can never be too safe when it comes to your financial information and protecting everything you've worked hard for.

How cyber criminals get your information

The most likely place a cyber criminal can get your financial information is from you. That's right – you may hand it right to an identity thief without even knowing it.

Cyber criminals know banks go to extreme measures to protect your financial information, and their chances of getting into these systems are slim. So they phish, spy and hack their way into your information from other sources, piecing together what they need to access your financial accounts. Once they're in, they can take out a loan, buy a car and even get a mortgage on a house.

How to ensure safe Internet banking and investing

Keep an eye on your accounts without worrying that anyone else is with these Internet banking safety tips:

  • Your first course of action is to choose strong passwords for your banking and online investing accounts and keep them private.
  • Look for the lock symbol on the website or "https://" at the beginning of the website address (the "s" means "secure") to be sure the site is encrypted.
  • Never allow "auto fill" or "auto-remember" of your password or personal information.
  • Double check that your anti-virus protection and web browser are both the latest versions. If your software offers the option of automatic updates, take it. It's the best way to keep up to date.
  • Use a firewall and make sure it's set to "on". For example, Windows Firewall is on by default on the latest version of Windows, but make sure it isn't turned off: open Windows Firewall by clicking the Start button then the Control Panel; in the search box type "firewall" then click Windows Firewall; in the left pane, click Turn Windows Firewall on or off.
  • As soon as you're done banking, close the browser window, clear the cache (delete your browser history) and disconnect from the Internet. Here are examples of how to do this:
    • In Firefox, go to Tools > Clear Recent History
    • In Internet Explorer, Go to Tools > Delete Browsing History
    • In Chrome, go to the wrench icon in the top right hand corner. Under the Bonnet > Clear Browsing Data
  • When you're banking online, never use public Wi-Fi or public computers
  • Remember that legitimate banks and businesses will never ask for your personal information in an email, so be suspicious if you get this request.
  • Beware of "packet sniffing" – if more than one browser tab is open at a time, packet sniffer programs can see all of the information passing over the network and can potentially monitor:
    • Which websites you visit;
    • What you look at on the site;
    • Who you send e-mail to;
    • What's in the e-mail you send;
    • What you download from a site;
    • What streaming events you use, such as audio, video and Internet telephony; and,
    • Who visits your site (if you have a website)
  • Always enter the website address in the browser yourself – never use a link.
  • Review your account activity regularly and get in touch with your financial institution right away if you notice anything strange.
  • Don't believe everything you read in online newsletters, investing blogs, or bulletin boards. Fraud artists often float false information and "hot tips" as part of their efforts to rip-off investors or manipulate the market for a particular security.
  • When in doubt, call your bank about suspicious messages. Some spammers use variations on a bank's name, so it may look legitimate even when it's not. Verify by phone and don't reply to a suspicious message or click on a link that's in it.
  • Read the Internet security guides offered by banks to stay up to date
  • Find out about phishing and be aware of the latest scams.
  • Always log out completely.
  • When disposing of an old computer or other device, be sure to erase all personal data.
  • Download software and erase the hard drive yourself or hire a professional to wipe the hard drive clean.

Things to keep in mind while banking on the go

Using your mobile phone to do your banking can be a convenient way to manage your finances from anywhere. Most banks now provide an app that makes it easy to access your information and complete transactions, but before you log on make certain of the following:

  • Is your wireless network secure? If you're picking up a wireless signal at a hotel for instance, you may not want to send sensitive information.
  • Is your mobile banking application actually from your bank? Be sure it's the real thing and not a copycat.
  • Have you installed anti-theft technology on your mobile device, and backed up your data?
  • Does your device automatically lock after a period of time? If not, it's a good idea to set this feature and use a strong password for your mobile device.
  • Have you stored your passwords and banking information (branch #, bank address) on your mobile device? If you lose your phone, this information would go with it.
  • Are all of your apps and device software current? Consider verifying an app's authenticity with your bank in person or on the phone.
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