Online banking facilities have the potential to make our financial lives much easier, letting us conduct our financial affairs at a time that suits us rather than having to fit in with the opening hours of your bank branch.
It is now possible to pay bills, move money between accounts, set up direct debits and standing orders, and even apply for overdrafts and credit all from your own home, all online and on your own PC.
Despite this convenience, for many people there is still a lingering mistrust of the technology involved : will your money be safe if you bank online? The answer is, for the most part, yes - so long as you follow a few basic principles.
Firstly, if you have the option to choose your own password for online services, then make sure that the password you decide on is secure. This means that it shouldn't be easily guessable - avoid using the name of your pet or child, for example, and don't use the numbers of your birthday. An ideal password should be easily memorable, but hard to guess, and using a combination of letters and numbers is highly recommended. For example, a good password could be the name of a food you hate, along with a number that is significant in some way to you - e.g. mushrooms37. Such a password would be almost impossible for someone to guess, but will also be very easy for you to remember.
One the subject of passwords, it's vital that you never give out your personal details in response to a 'phishing' attack. Phishing is a subject worthy of it's own article, but in brief: if you receive an email purporting to be from your bank, asking you to reconfirm your details or to log into your account urgently, then ignore it. It will NOT have been sent by your bank, but by fraudsters attempting to steal your identity.
Another important security measure is to avoid logging in to your online banking service on a publicly accessible computer - for example, at work or in an internet cafe. You can never be sure what details about your internet use are being stored on a PC you don't own, and even if you log out of the service when you've finished it's highly possible that the next user of the machine could, with effort, discover your details and log on to your account.
The final, and perhaps most important thing you should do to protect your banking security is to ensure that you keep your virus checking software up to date. It's all to easy for your Windows PC to be infected by so-called spyware, via email or visiting unethical web sites, which criminals can use to intercept your passwords and other information they can use to illegally gain access to your account. Having well known and up to date virus protection software installed is a highly effective way to prevent this from happening.
Also remember that if the worst happens and your account is somehow compromised, any losses will have to be taken by the bank and not you, so long as you can show that you haven't been reckless with your online security. Following the above measures will show that you have taken all reasonable precautions, and so will not be liable for any losses that may occur, however unlikely.
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Nicholas writes for a bank accounts information site, where you can read more about online banking and other related subjects.
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