Saturday, May 25, 2024

Blog | How to manage your finances online securely

By Marian Merritt

Marian Merritt copy

Consumers love the newfound freedom they have to manage their finances via online services. Now we can use so many methods to check balances, transfer funds, make deposits, and review our credit reports — and we never have to get in the car, drive to the bank, or talk to a live person. For most of us, this translates into a big convenience and terrific time savings.

Banking online and on the go

Nearly all banks allow you to bank online. Most are now introducing nifty mobile apps for your smartphones, too. The biggest benefits to you are access and monitoring. When you bank online, you have access to your accounts all the time, not just during banking hours.

Here are just a few of the banking tasks you can do online:

? Monitor your accounts, check your balance, and verify each transaction any time, not just once a month when your statement arrives.

? Transfer funds from one account to another without making a trip to the bank or the ATM.

? Make deposits with innovative smartphone apps.

? Set up daily balance alerts via text or email messaging.

? Pay bills online, any time.

To get started, or to review the growing list of online and mobile banking features, just visit your bank’s website or your mobile device’s authorized app store. Be sure you only use secured computers and mobile devices to conduct your sensitive banking transactions, and never click a link to get started.

Use the app or type the address yourself. And when you’ve finished your banking, be sure to fully log out so no one with access to your device can do anything damaging.

Managing your investments

How’s your investment portfolio doing today? Well, you could call your broker and ask. Or wait until the end of the month and check your statement. Or go online and take a look right now. You can ask your broker to set up online access for you, or you can go online and sign up yourself.

Once online you can:

? Monitor the total value of your portfolio or check the current price of each security.

? View trends for the whole portfolio or individual securities.

? Buy and sell securities (before you do this, be sure to get input or recommendations from a licensed broker or, at the very least, do some astute research of your own).

? There have been scams where cybercriminals have accessed the online portion of financial services companies and posed as the account owners to transfer funds overseas. Ask your financial advisor about fraud alerts or additional security measures to prevent such crimes.

Monitoring your credit cards

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, credit card fraud is the most common form of consumer fraud. Online monitoring of your credit card transactions can help keep you from becoming a fraud victim and a statistic.

? Go to your credit card company’s website and sign up for online access to your account.

? Monitor your account frequently and identify each transaction.

? If you see a transaction that is suspicious, call the credit card company and report it.

? If the transaction is found to be fraudulent, you can have the charge reversed and, if necessary, your account frozen and a new card issued with a new account number.

By using the various online and mobile tools available from your bank, your credit card provider, and your financial investment service, you can stay well informed about the state of your financial affairs. You will also be able to spot fraudulent charges or unauthorized transactions, giving you the ability to stop a cybercrime quickly and limit the damage.

Knowing your credit report and your rights

Your credit report is a treasure trove of data about you! The report typically includes your Social Security number, date of birth, previous and current addresses, telephone numbers (including those that are unlisted), credit payment status, employment history, and even legal information.

Preventing identity theft and fraud

Sometimes credit reports contain inaccurate data that can hurt your credit score, thus impacting your ability to get good interest rates on a loan, whether it’s for a car, home, college tuition, or anything else you want to borrow money for. Plus, you want to make sure no one else is using your good name and credit for illegal purposes.

If you spot fraud such as a line of credit or a loan you never requested, act immediately. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting the toll-free fraud number of any of the three agencies. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert.

Close any of the accounts that you think have been tampered with or opened without your knowledge or authorization. Follow up all your phone calls in writing.

Taking basic security precautions

Is all this safe? Well, nothing is absolutely safe, but you can take precautions to make sure that your online financial management activities are at least as safe as the same activities would be in the offline world, maybe even safer.

You should be aware, vigilant, and take routine precautions such as these:

? Make sure the websites with which you transact financial business are secure. Look for the lock icon and/or a Web address that starts with “https://” (the “s” stands for secure). This isn’t a guarantee, but is generally a good indication of a secure site.

? Create strong passwords of at least eight characters that combine letters, numbers, and symbols. Use a different password for each account, and don’t use the same password that you use to access your PC. Change your passwords frequently and don’t store them on or near your computer.

? When you’re finished with your transaction, log out of the account.

? Secure your PC with Internet security software, such as Norton 360 or Norton Internet Security. Keep that software updated.

? Don’t respond to emails or pop-up windows that ask you to update your security information. Your bank, credit card, or investment firm won’t ask you to do that.

? Remember, any offer that seems too good to be true probably is. Don’t respond.

Conclusion: Protecting your bottom line

As long as you do everything you reasonably can to secure your PC and take standard precautions in making online transactions, the benefits of managing your finances online will outweigh safety concerns. Say goodbye to paper bills, stamps, and envelope licking. Say hello to the easy way to manage your finances (but please be careful).

The author is Norton?s Internet safety advocate

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