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Online Banking: How to Safeguard Your Online Banking Experience

Bret Pippen -- Online banking offers the convenience to bank anywhere, any time. Paying bills, checking account balances, transferring funds, all can be done in a snap through a financial institution's web applications. But is your online financial information safe?

With reports of identity theft and other crimes committed on the Internet, it's no surprise that some consumers have security concerns. The good news is that banks and most reputable online retailers go to great lengths to protect your identity and ensure your safety and security online.

How a financial institution protects your online banking

The first step is always the difficult job of staying a step ahead of the bad guys. Behind the scenes, most banks employ teams of security developers. In addition to making sure that they use the most advanced fraud avoidance solutions, financial institutions also build layers of protection for personal information. Also banks monitor network traffic continually to quickly identify suspicious activities -- whether on the bank systems themselves or even on a person's account.

No matter who you use for your online banking services or as an online retailer, you should look for a firm that uses SSL (Secure Socket Layer) encryption. This is the protocol most often used for confidential information. Basically, this means your private information is scrambled between your browser and the bank's server.

To make sure you're using a secure session, look for two things: first, at the bottom of your browser screen you should see an unbroken key or locked padlock icon; second, your browser's address bar should change from "http" to "https."

Another important security precaution is multi-factor authentication. A bank serious about security will provide multiple layers of sophisticated login authentication. For example, when you log into your online banking account, do you go through multiple steps to verify your identity? If the system detects unusual patterns in login behavior, you should be prompted to answer a security question. If authentication fails, your account should be locked preventing further access ... and that's a good thing.

Online IDs, passwords, security questions and authentication software help ensure a safe online banking experience. Reviewing your bank's service level agreements and privacy policies can also provide other important security details.

Best practices for managing your finances online

Although it's become a security mantra today, some people still need to heed this advice never share your online ID or password with anyone! Same goes for your security questions and answers. Also, avoid letting your browser auto fill forms and save your passwords. And, change your password on a regular basis using strong alphanumeric selections instead of common ones like birthdays, addresses, pet names and the like.

Your bank's system should log you off automatically after several minutes. No matter where you use online banking, make sure you log out when you are finished. And in general, it's best never to use public computers to transact personal business. Also note that using the "back" button on your browser will not end your session and could make your personal data vulnerable. It's a good idea to shut down your browser whenever you're not using the Internet.

Also make sure to update your anti-virus software regularly and install a firewall. And, review your banking statements as soon as you receive them. Call your financial institution immediately if you notice a transaction you did not make. Many banks limit the time you have to report fraudulent activity, so do it right away.

Be very cautious when downloading information and programs. One common scam involves virus scanners. After what looks like a real scan of your computer, you're asked to install software to eliminate the "viruses." Never click "OK" unless you have intentionally purchased software for download and you know the source.

Same goes for mobile banking. Only use apps from trusted sources and always sign-off from your sessions rather than just closing them. Other hacker tricks include hiding malware in banner ads that install on your computer automatically and illegal e-mails. Cyber criminals will work hard to get your personal information.

So, don't make it easier for them, especially with suspicious e-mails. Don't open attachments, click on links or respond to unknown senders. Report suspicious banking related e-mails directly to your financial institution.

Online banking can be convenient and safe if you're diligent about following these guidelines. By working with a reputable financial institution and taking the necessary steps to minimize your risk, you'll be able to enjoy the many benefits of online banking worry free.

Bret Pippen is the head of advertising and customer communications for Regions Bank, one of the nation's largest full-service providers of consumer and commercial banking products and services. Learn more about online banking by visiting their website.

© 2011 Bret Pippen

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The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.