What if a withdrawal you didn't authorize showed up on your bank statement. You might pause to see if you forgot something. But when reality sinks in, you’re left with the horrible question of what to do next and how to get your family's money back. Consumers report massive losses to fraud every year, which means if you’re a victim of fraud you’re not alone. To avoid giving criminals access to your bank account in the first place, we’ve rounded up easy tips to help keep your checking account protected.
Protecting Your Family Accounts In-Person
As you go about your day, there are a few ways you can help keep your money protected.
Tip #1: Choose Your ATM’s Wisely
When it comes to keeping your money secure, not all ATM’s are created equal. If you’re given the choice, only use ATMs that are located inside of a bank or credit union. These ATMs are likely the most secure in terms of identity theft and personal safety. Any ATM located inside of a bank or credit union is under 24-hour security surveillance, meaning it’ll be a lot tougher for criminals to tamper with the machine. In addition, you won’t have people glancing at your pin number as they walk by.
Tip #2: Enable Text Alerts
With many institutions, you have the option to set up text alerts every time a charge is made on your credit or debit card. While the extra notifications on your phone may seem like a nuisance, this can often be the fastest way to detect a fraudulent charge. Speed is your friend. If you receive an alert and you don't recognize the transaction, call the bank immediately.
Tip #3: Pay With Credit Cards When Possible
This is not a recommendation to rack up credit card debt. But some consumers prefer to use a credit card over their debit card for everyday purchases for the simple reason that it isn’t their money they’re putting at risk. While, of course, you’re responsible for the charges they accrue, you’re not exposing your actual earnings to potential threats. If a thief gains access to your checking account through your debit card, they can drain the money saved in there. If they gain access to your credit card account, there’s no personal money to be taken. Instead, they’re racking up charges that you can contest with your credit card company. Generally, you are more protected as a consumer if a bad guy steals credit card information than debit card information.
Tip #4: Look For Skimming Devices
Every time you hit the gas station, be on the lookout for skimming devices. According to the Federal Trade Commission, these are illegal card readers that can be attached to a payment terminal. They’re most commonly found on gas station card readers, and they are used to grab data off of a credit or debit card’s magnetic strip. Here are a few things to consider the next time you fuel up:
- If your gas station puts a security seal over the card reader panel, make sure it hasn’t been broken or voided
- Look for any type of attachment to the end of the card reader. If it looks bigger than usual or wiggles when you move it, it could be a skimmer.
- To be sure you’re staying away from skimmers, pay inside at the cash register instead of at the pump.
Bonus Tip: Be Careful About Who Gets a Check
You might still occasionally write a check. Be careful about when you choose to write a check. Why? A check has a much more personal information than you might guess. A check recipient will see:
- How your name is titled on your bank account
- Your address
- Where your bank is located
- Your account number
- Your bank's routing number for electronic transfers
- Your signature
Think twice before handing over a check to a stranger. Consider an alternative way to pay that offers more protection.
Protecting Your Account Online
Hackers and fraudsters are as prevalent online as they are in person. Here are a few ways to keep your accounts protected as you access them online.
Tip #1: Check Your Account Regularly
When it comes to fraudulent charges to your account, thieves act quickly — often draining accounts in just a few minutes, hours or days. If you aren’t checking your account regularly, you may miss that something suspicious happened. We recommend checking in on your account 1-2 times a week. While it may sound extreme, the timeline for how much you could lose in the case of fraudulent debit charges is quick:
- If you report the theft before any charges are made, you won’t incur any account loss.
- If you report within two business days of learning about the theft, your maximum loss will be $50.
- If you report after two business days but within 60 days of your last bank statement being sent to you, you could see a loss of up to $500.
- If you report the theft more than 60 days after your last bank statement was sent to you, you’re subject to lose all of the money removed from the account.
Reporting three or more business days after the unauthorized withdrawal occurs means you could stand to lose up to $500. If you’re only checking your account every week or every other week, you may not catch the withdrawal until there are hundreds of dollars at stake.
Some banks will let you opt in to alerts from multiple sources. For example, both email and text. If your banks allows this, sign in as added layer of protect.
Tip #2: Save Statements
While it’s much easier and more convenient to access statements on an app, you should still keep a backup. This would be helpful in the case that a hacker took control of your online accounts. If they changed the password and locked you out of the account, you can at least still have a paper trail with your account information on it. Save a PDF copies in a secure place. Also have a paper backup in a secure place in your home.
Tip #3: Be Cautious About Sharing Your Information
It’s not unusual to share your account information over the phone, especially if you’re attempting to pay for a service or bill. But if someone contacts you either over the phone, through a messaging platform or via email, take extra caution before sharing your information. If you’re being called by someone claiming to be from the bank and they ask for some account details, ask for their extension and tell them you’ll call right back. Be sure to call back using the number listed on the bank or other organization’s website to confirm the original call was legitimate. Never share your account information in writing via email, messaging platform, text or social media.
Tip #4: Only Log-In On Secure Devices
When accessing your account online, stay away from using public computers, devices, or wifi. If you must, always make sure the HTTPS appears before the website name in the address bar, as this can help keep your log-in information protected. It is also recommended that you avoid logging in to your account on a wifi network that is not password protected, as this can make it much easier for hackers to gain access to your information.
Whether you’re shopping online or pumping gas at the station, there are steps you can take to help keep your identity and money protected. Diligence can be the difference between facing a drained account and staying on top of unauthorized withdrawals. And if you do notice a transaction you didn’t make, act quickly to preserve as much of your account as possible.
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