There are many conveniences to banking in the modern age. Online banking portals and mobile banking apps provide more convenience than ever before. Who could have imagined taking a photo of a check with your mobile device to cash it just a few years ago? Parents can more easily send money to their children, and friends can easily chip in for a pizza using apps like Venmo or PayPal, which are easily integrated with the banking app of your choice. There’s no doubt that things have become much more integrated, streamlined, and convenient.
However, with that convenience can come added risk. Just as you couldn’t before snap a picture of a check to cash it, a malicious thief couldn’t before access your bank account if they came into possession of your smartphone. While banks and credit unions, of course, take efforts to secure your accounts, human error can still be dangerous. In this blog, we explore some handy fraud prevention steps that you can—and should—take to safeguard your money.
#1: Enable Two-Factor Authentication on Every Account
Did you know that helicopters have a piece of equipment that’s colloquially referred to as the “Jesus nut”? It’s the bolt that holds the rotor to the helicopter’s body and is so named because it’s a single point of failure—if the Jesus nut fails, the only thing left to do is pray.
Your banking information is, simply put, too precious to just leave in the hands of a single point of failure—a Jesus nut of your very own. If the only thing that stands between your money and a malicious actor is a password, which can be guessed, brute-forced, or stolen, then your money will never be perfectly secure.
The solution to this is to enable two-factor authentication, or 2FA. Most every banking app or online portal supports some form of 2FA, and it should be enabled everywhere you go. This means that when someone tries to log in to your account from an unfamiliar device, even if they use the correct password, they’ll have to do something extra like use a temporary passcode sent to your email or use a fingerprint scan if on your mobile device.
Two-factor authentication instantly makes it much harder for any individual to get into your account.
#2: Regularly Change (and Don’t Reuse) Passwords
While 2FA is an added line of defense to improve your account’s security, wouldn’t it be better for your bank account fraud prevention if your first line of defense didn’t need reinforcement? It’s vital that we all get in the habit of regularly changing the passwords we use, using each one no more than six months, ideally. What’s just as important is not reusing passwords from site to site—if your bank password is the same as a password you use on another site, if that site or service is compromised, your password could be leaked.
However, coming up with passwords regularly can be difficult, so you should use online password generators or apps like LastPass. When in doubt, remember that longer passwords are stronger than shorter ones and can be easier to remember. (Humorously illustrated by this comic from XKCD).
#3: Practice Basic Cybersecurity Safety
Even if you’re doing things right for bank account fraud prevention, if your computer gets compromised, malicious actors may be able to use it to access your bank account or at least learn its details. To avoid this, you should follow some basic cybersecurity best practices:
- Don’t click on links from messages or emails that sound strange or are sent from people you don’t know.
- Don’t download strange attachments from emails—this can be true even if the person sending it to you is a trusted friend or acquaintance. Their account might have been hacked. If you’re not sure what the attachment is, reach out to your friend to make sure they meant to send it to you before downloading it.
- Make sure you aren’t conducting any sensitive online business (like connecting to your online banking portal) over unsecured public Wi-Fi. Similarly, make sure that the site you’re using is using secure encryption for all data—check the beginning of the URL for the s: “https://” is secure, but “http://” is not.
- Always be sure that every device you’re using is using up-to-date anti-malware software and that you’re regularly installing patches and software updates.
#4: Immediately Cancel Lost Credit or Debit Cards
If you’ve lost your credit card or debit card, it’s almost always better to err on the side of being safe, rather than sorry. If you’ve looked everywhere you can think of and your card is nowhere to be found, you should act quickly and contact your bank or credit union to have the card canceled and invalidated ASAP. Your institution will typically be happy to send you a new one.
It’s not uncommon for people to resist canceling a lost card for some time, feeling embarrassed or worrying about any fees associated with a replacement card. If there are any fees for a new card (and this depends on the institution), they’ll typically be light ones—and consequently, they’ll be considerably preferable to a potential breach of your bank account.
#5: Regularly Monitor Your Bank Accounts, Especially Recurring Expenses
In this day and age, we probably all have a dozen monthly subscriptions that come directly out of our bank accounts. Your Netflix subscription one week, Amazon Prime the next, a recurring charitable donation the day afterward—the list goes on and on.
If your bank account is exposed and someone does gain access to it, the more successful thieves won’t be the ones who instantly drain your account to zero with thousand-dollar purchases. The successful ones will be the ones who set up small recurring transactions that they hope you won’t notice but which all add up over time.
As a result, it’s always a good idea to check your bank account regularly—every other day or so—and review recent transactions, including recurring ones. Make sure you can match expenses to things you actually meant to pay for.
If you want to work with a credit union that’s dedicated to your bank account fraud prevention, contact Central Willamette Credit Union today.