6 rules for safer financial transactions online
Whether you go online to check your bank balance, pay a bill, give money, shop, or sell something, these six rules can help you keep the risks to a minimum.
1. Defend your computer against Internet threats
Help protect your online transactions by using firewall, antivirus, and antispyware software. Encrypt your wireless connection at home. Keep all software (including your web browser) current with automatic updates. For more information, see How to boost your malware defense and protect your PC.
2. Create strong passwords
Strong passwords are easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess. They are at least 14 characters long (the longer the password, the better) and include numbers, symbols, and upper and lower case letters. For more information, see Learn how to create strong passwords. If you already have a password in mind, check your password strength.)
Keep passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers) secret. Do not share them in email, instant messages, or over the phone.
Use unique passwords for bank accounts and other important financial information. Avoid using the same password everywhere. If someone steals that password, all the information that the password protects is at risk.
3. Find the web address yourself
Links in email messages, text messages, instant messages, or pop-up ads can take you to websites that look legitimate but are not. To visit websites, type the address yourself or use your own bookmark or favorite.
4. Look for signs that your information is safe
Before you enter sensitive data on a web page, ensure that:
The site uses encryption, a security measure that helps protect your data as it traverses the Internet. Signs of encryption include a web address with https ("s" stands for secure) and a closed padlock beside it. (The lock might also be in the lower right corner of the window.)
You are at the correct website—for example, at your bank's site, not a fake one. If you are using Internet Explorer, one sign of trustworthiness is a green address bar like the one above.
5. Save financial transactions for your home computer
Never pay bills, bank, shop, or do other financial business on a public or shared computer or on devices such as laptops or mobile phones that are on public wireless networks. The security is unreliable.
6. Use common sense
To protect yourself against fraud, watch out for scams. For example, be wary of deals that sound too good to be true, alerts from your "bank" that your account will be closed unless you take some immediate action, notices that you have won a lottery, or a refusal to meet in person for a local transaction.
Typically this kind of message, whether sent by computer or phone, is designed to entice you to visit a phony website where criminals collect your financial data. (If you doubt the message's authenticity, call the company.) Learn to spot phishing scams and defend against them.
What to do if there are problems:
Online shopping problem? First, ask the seller to make things right. If that doesn't work, contact the web service for help.
Report scams, fraud, identity theft, or other abuse:
To the web service, local police, and the bank, credit card company, or other financial institution.
For identity theft in the United States, to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov/idtheft or call toll free: (877) 438-4338.
For scams or fraud in the United States, to the FTC at ftc.gov/bcp/consumer.shtm or call toll free: (877) 382-4357.
How to use third-party payment services
You can use third-party payment services to make payments online and avoid giving your credit card number directly to merchants.
What is a third-party payment service?
When you use a third-party payment service, you transfer money into an online account and make payments from that account. That way, you never expose your real credit card or bank account information.
You can use these third-party payment services to buy things from online auction websites or from other online businesses and to donate money.
The most popular of these services in the United States is called PayPal, but there are others, such as Amazon.com Payments.
How to choose a secure payment service
Use the same guidelines for choosing a third-party payment service as you would for choosing an online retailer. To test the legitimacy of a service:
Find out what others say about the service: Check consumer review websites such as Epinions.com or BizRate.
Look at the payment service's website for seals of approval from TRUSTe or Better Business Bureau Online (BBBOnline).
Before you submit sensitive data to the payment service, ensure that the service website uses encryption. (Encryption is a security measure that helps protect your data as it traverses the Internet.) Signs that a website uses encryption include a web address with https ("s" stands for secure) and a closed padlock beside it. (The lock might also be in the lower right corner of the window.)
Use payment services more safely
Never respond to email messages from third-party payment services asking you to confirm account details, such as passwords or other personally identifiable information. These email messages could potentially be identity theft scams, such as phishing.
Create a strong password for your account. Strong passwords are easy for you to remember but difficult for others to guess. They are at least 14 characters long and include upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols. Learn how to create strong passwords.
Do not use payment services (or make any financial transactions, for that matter) on public or shared computers or on devices such as laptops or cell phones while you are using public wireless networks. The security is unreliable.
Find out whether the seller is a verified member of the payment service, and for how long. Some services allow you to check a seller's rating—although these ratings cannot be guaranteed, they can be helpful.
Edited by Kevin, 2012 Jan 29, 01:55