I read an article recently that said that FBI director Robert Mueller doesn’t use online banking at all because he almost fell for a classic “phishing” scam. According to the article, he received an email that appeared to be from his bank and began following the instructions in the email. Fortunately for his credit score, he caught on to the scam at the last minute. In a classic knee jerk reaction, he now refuses to use internet banking at all. What does this say about the state of internet security if someone with as much access to world-class security software as the director of the FBI is susceptible to internet fraud?
I certainly understand there are high risks to using internet banking. I’ve read tons of horror stories about people whose financial lives have been ruined by identity theft. We’ve all seen the fake emails from our bank, or from the IRS that look almost legitimate. Even so, the convenience of internet banking outweighs the risks for me – as long as my wife and I practice safe computing.
Here are some tips for safe browsing:
- Don’t click on links or attachments in emails you aren’t expecting. If you need to do something at yoyr bank, go directly to your bank’s website.
- Assume any message from your bank informing you that you need to sign in to update your information is junk. Because of the prevalence of scans, most banks won’t use email to communicate this type of information. You’ll get a letter in the mail or a pop-up on the website when you sign in.
- Patch, patch, patch. Keep your operating system and security software up to date.
- Watch your account activity. The best way to know if your accounts are compromised is to keep a close watch on the transactions. The sooner you know about traffic that’s not yours, the better.
- Use your annual free credit report. We all get one free report a year. Use it to see if any repair needs to be done.
- If you have wi-fi at your house, don’t leave your computers on. Wi-fi is a leaky vessel and embarassingly easy to compromise. If you leave your computers sitting idle, connected to the internet for huge amounts of time, you’re asking for trouble.
- Everyone needs a good firewall and good antivirus software. There are plenty of free or cheap options available that do a pretty good job.