Your Money Online: Staying Safe in an Increasingly Paperless and Wireless World

Posted on June 16, 2012 by Nikhil P Naik

Most major banks now offer the option to go “paperless” – allowing the possibility of depositing checks, transferring funds, or withdrawing money with nothing more than a username, password and a few mouse clicks. And banks aren’t the only businesses capitalizing on the rapid advancement of technology. You can purchase nearly anything online, from nearly any corner of the globe. All you need is some credit card information and your purchase will arrive at your door in a matter of days. It has never been easier to spend and manage your money online. Unfortunately it has never been easier to lose your money online either.

While most of us take advantage of at least some of the latest online financial conveniences, we are also at least a little wary of online banking and shopping. The LA Times recently reported that a large percentage of the population is “convinced it’s just a matter of time before their personal data is stolen.” That is not a pleasant feeling. And although we may never be able to guarantee complete online safety there are some simple things everyone should keep in mind in order to minimize risks when dealing with financial information online.

  • You don’t have to be a computer programmer to understand the basics of Internet security. In order for a connection to be secure it must have encryption. If this is the case, the URL will begin “https” rather than just “http” Some Internet browsers will also include an icon next to the address (usually a lock or a key) if the connection is encrypted. Never enter private information (especially credit card numbers, home addresses, phone numbers, or social security numbers) until you have ensured that your connection is secure.
  • Make sure that the computer you are using is as secure as possible with firewalls and anti-spyware programs. A firewall allows you to have more control over the data that comes to your computer from other sources. Most operating systems come with firewalls built in but it doesn’t hurt to have additional firewalls and there are many programs (both for a fee and for free) that can help give you added protection. Spyware (malicious software intended to at least partially override your computer and access information against your permission) can record and monitor keystrokes, passwords and usernames, or any of a number of other types of data from your computer. Consider installing anti-spyware programs that help to prevent or remove spyware. Also avoid clicking on links in spam emails, exiting out of popup windows by clicking anything but the x in the upper corner, and make sure that all software is up to date.
  • In addition, if you don’t have any previous experience with a company or website then take time to read their privacy policy before sharing any information. Most reputable companies will have their privacy policy prominently located and will include offline contact information, including a postal address. It may seem like a hassle to read through all of that fine print but some “privacy policies” are little more than disclaimers stating that you don’t have privacy so it is worth the time you will spend to ensure that you are protected in the case that something goes wrong with your transaction. You may also want to check whether the privacy statement is backed up with a seal program such as TRUSTe or BBBonline.

There are risks associated with the exchange of funds and information online. If we are smart and take the time for certain precautions, however, we can continue to capitalize on ever increasing online conveniences without feeling paranoid.

About the Author:  Kathy Hamilton is a freelance writer for Venafi, the leader in managed PKI for SSL services.

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About Nikhil P Naik

Nikhil Naik has a Master's Degree in Information Systems, and is currently working as a Software Engineer at Microsoft. He also loves playing cricket, listening to music, and traveling. Twitter Handle - @buzz_nikhil.

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