Six Ways To Safeguard Your Online Assets

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- Do you think using online financial services is just too darn risky? Well, think again. Online banking may actually leave you less vulnerable to fraud than traditional banking, according to Javelin Strategy and Research.

The research firm found that customers who made a habit of monitoring account activity online tended to discover suspicious activity more quickly. And early detection spelled savings: victims of cyber crime who tracked their accounts online paid out an average of $551 per incident, whereas those who relied on paper statements paid an average $4,543 per incident, reports MSN Money columnist Liz Pulliam Weston.

This knowledge, coupled with the convenience of having account information available at a moment's notice, has undoubtedly prompted many former skeptics to go electronic. But if you choose to bank online, be aware that you are offering thieves another avenue to your finances.

To ensure that you don't fall prey to cyber fraud, be sure to follow these six rules for safe online banking from Weston's book, "Easy Money:"

Install a firewall.
A firewall is a software program designed to allow good people in and keep bad people out. Most new computers come with firewalls integrated into their operating systems. Those who have a DSL or cable modem have an added layer of protection because these modems come with yet another firewall built in. If, however, you have an older computer or use dial up, you may need to buy a firewall separately and install it yourself.

Install and update antispyware and antivirus programs.
Microsoft and numerous application vendors offer users regular updates to existing antispyware programs, so be on the lookout. As for antivirus protection, Symantec and Norton antivirus are popular choices. If you're looking to cut costs, Consumer Reports says Alwil Avast offers the best free virus protection available.

Avoid accessing financial information in public.
Resist logging on to check your bank balance when working from a coffee shop that offers wireless access. These systems are convenient, but also unknown. Casual users have no way of assessing how sturdy their firewalls are.

Update your browser.
Updating your browser on a regular basis can help plug up security holes, so make it a habit.

Look for "locks."
How can you tell if your financial site is really secure before you log on? The Web address should start with "https," instead of "http," says Weston. Also, look for small lock icon in the lower-right corner of the browser window.

Don't open mystery attachments.
Never open an attachment or click on a link sent to you by an unknown party. Attachments can contain viruses and links can lead unsuspecting users to dummy sites where they are asked to input financial information.


By Marshall Loeb
  • CBSNews

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