8 Powerful Ways to Protect Your Bank Account

November 4, 2020

Every year, over 2.5 billion bank accounts get hacked. That’s one bank account breach every 158 seconds. In the age of direct deposits and cashless payments more and more of your income and personal information is tied to your bank accounts. Luckily, there are a few simple ways you can make your bank account and financial information more secure. Here are seven simple ways to protect your bank account information and keep your money from falling into the wrong hands.

How to Protect Your Bank Account

1. Choose ATM's wisely

One of the more popular ways for thieves to steal your banking information is to install hidden cameras near ATMs. As you slide in your debit card or enter your PIN, thieves will record this information and use it to gain access to your account.

That's why it's always best to only use ATMs that you know and trust. ATMs within bank branches are among the most secure. If you’re in a different city and have to use an unfamiliar ATM, be sure it’s an ATM that’s in a brightly lit area and preferably attached to a bank as opposed to a generic public location. Basically, if it's an out of the way ATM, maybe keep on looking, or pay for your purchase with a card.

2. Look for skimming devices

In addition to cameras at ATMs, hidden skimming devices have also become another common way for thieves to steal your information. "Skimmers" are small card readers that thieves actually place inside the debit card slot of the ATM. Skimmers work by recording the information on the magnetic strip of every card, and hackers often sell that information online.

Again, choose your ATMs wisely and be on the lookout for any attachments or devices which seem out of the ordinary. You can often se skimmers with a quick check of the card reader.

3. Enable SMS text alerts from your bank

Nobody wants more robocalls and spam texts. But text alerts from your bank are one of the quickest and most effective ways to respond to fraud in real-time. Not everyone checks their bank account every day (or even every week) and bank alert and security emails can easily get lost in spam filters or the avalanche of other important emails in your inbox. Fraudsters can even impersonate bank "security alert" emails to phish unprepared users for bank information.

While it's not great to get texts from your bank, text alerts about suspicious activity on your accounts is a simple and free way to stay connected with your bank account. If your savings or secure checking account offers this service, turn it on so that you’ll always up to date every time there is an activity. And respond to texts as soon as you get them to build a history with the bank if fraud ever does occur.

4. Pay with credit cards whenever possible

If you’re in the habit of using your ATM or debit card to make purchases it may be a good idea to switch over to a credit card instead. Debit cards are directly connected to your bank account, so they're that much more vulnerable to fraud.

Your credit cards aren't directly integrated to your savings or checking account — even if you've set up auto payments. Therefore, even though it would be an inconvenience for someone to hack your credit card information, it can still serve as a layer of protection against your bank accounts. Basically, using your credit cards more than debit cards gives you an extra layer of protection and more importantly, time to respond to any security breaches or irregular activity in your account.

5. Use mobile banking apps instead of browsers

If you do any banking on the go, mobile banking apps are far safer and more secure than browsing to a bank's mobile website to check your balance, make payments, or transfer money. The reason is that apps on your phone — both iPhones and Android — use a different type of security encryption than more open browsers. So even if you see the "https" at the beginning of your bank's website, you're still more secure if you use your app to login.

Also, always try to avoid using public wi-fi when you're doing any mobile banking, even if you're logging in on the app. Turn on cellular data for your mobile banking apps in your settings. It's worth the occasional data overages.

6. Check your account often

If you’re not already in the habit, be sure to log in to your bank account and look over the activity every week. A quick scan is more than enough, but it does need to be regular to be effective.

Nearly all institutions now offer some form of online banking where you can view your account from your personal computer or smartphone app. If you notice any transactions that might be fraud, then report them immediately.

7. Use paper statements

While going green and paperless can be Earth-friendly, it can also leave you vulnerable to thieves if you’re not careful. Online statements that you share by email or download to your computer could be intercepted if malware finds its way onto your machine. If you’re not already digitally protected, then consider sticking with paper statements instead.

8. Be extra cautious about sharing banking information

Above all else, the best defense you have against protecting your bank accounts is to be selective about who you share your personal information with and how. Never communicate bank account numbers, routing numbers, social security numbers, or any other type of personal data by email or even over the phone. And never answer security questions about yourself if you're contacted by "your bank." Incoming calls and emails are a common source of bank account fraud.

Also, no bank should ever ask you to share your full:

  • Checking account number
  • Routing number
  • Social security number
  • Credit card number (with security pin)

Always confirm that you're actually speaking to your bank, and make sure to conduct financial business through a secure connection and only when it’s absolutely necessary and you'll be far more secure than many people. And that's a huge part of securing your bank account information from fraud.

Understanding Deposit Insurance (FDIC)

Since the infamous bank runs of the Great Depression, most bank accounts are now what’s called FDIC insured. 

FDIC stands for the “Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation”. This is an independent federal agency responsible for protecting customer deposits up to $250,000 per depositor in the event of bank failures.

FDIC insurance covers all types of deposit accounts, including:

  • Checking accounts
  • Savings accounts
  • Money market deposit accounts
  • Certificates of deposit

While this is good news in the event of a bank run, it's important to point out that FDIC deposit insurance does not protect against fraud or theft. However, there are other laws and industry practices that may provide you with some relief if you become the victim of cybercrime.

Additional Ways to Protect your Bank Account

1. Avoid making online purchases over open Wi-Fi

Again, a public wi-fi connection is not the place to log onto secure accounts. That includes Starbucks. It might seem convenient, but public wi-fi leaves you far more exposed to hackers. It's also important that you don't ever shop online or check your financial accounts while you’re on an open, public network. Fill that online shopping cart at home.

2. Check your credit report

Sometimes when thieves get your personal information, they might use it to open fraudulent bank or credit card accounts without you even realizing it. It's actually more common than people realize. One of the only ways to know if this has happened is to review your credit report periodically and check that no new strange accounts have been opened. 

Whenever possible, sign up for free credit monitoring updates. This is in addition to your individual bank or credit card, as they only monitor internal transactions, not your larger online financial footprint. It's also interesting to see how sensitive online credit report monitoring can be. If you make a larger than normal purchase or take a trip, it should trigger at least a surface level warning in a "good" credit report monitor. Test each platform to make sure they're actively monitoring your online finances.

3. Create a unique password                        

If you’re still using the names of your family members or birthdays as your passwords, then it’s definitely time for an upgrade. Hackers can crack online banking passwords like these in a matter of seconds. 

For better bank account protection, use a unique password that contains a mixture of lower case, upper case, numbers, and special characters. It can be frustrating or confusing moving to complex alphanumeric password like "ak5_Witianl35604z", but they are more secure. If you move to complicated auto-generated passwords, you'll need a password manager to store and secure all your passwords. 1Password is an industry leader, or you can store your passwords for bank accounts, and websites in the Pillar Life account. Sign up here to start your free trial.

You can still opt for remembering each of your passwords, but you really want to avoid using duplicate passwords for multiple logins. If you use the same password for Netflix, online gaming profile, and your bank account, all it takes is a data breach at one site to compromise everything.

4. Don't access your account from a shared computer

This is less and less of a problem as online banking goes mobile. But just like banking on public Wi-Fi, using a shared computer (like at a public library or university lab) can also be riddled with vulnerabilities and malware. Again, don’t take chances with your personal information. It doesn't matter if you're in incognito mode, or you tick the box that doesn't save your login information. Avoid making any purchases, logging on into any accounts, or communicating your personal information on any public devices.

How to Keep your Bank Account Information Safe and Secure

Online fraud and identity theft are becoming commonplace. But you can protect your family's valuable personal and financial information with a little extra effort, a few tools, and some common best practices to keep your bank account information safe.

And if you’ve got personal bank information that you need to organize and share, either for yourself or a loved one, then consider using an app like Pillar as a safe alternative to emails and texts. Using multiple layers of industry-leading protection, no one will have access to this information except you – just the way it should be.

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