How to enjoy stress-free online banking

Do you use online banking? If you do, then you are in good company: A 2015 report from the Board of Governors of the Federal Reserve System found that it had become an increasingly popular practice as account owners made more extensive use of their smartphones:

  • Almost 40 percent of smartphone owners with bank accounts had used online banking at that time, compared with 33 percent in 2013 and 29 percent in 2012.
  • By far the most common (at 94 percent of users) use of mobile banking services was for checking account balances and recent transactions via web or mobile app.
  • The next two runners-up were conducting money transfers between a person’s own accounts (61 percent) and receiving notifications from banks (57 percent).

With smartphones now in the vast majority of American households, we should expect online banking to become increasingly popular as well as more advanced in its functionality. A Pew Research Center study found that 77 percent of Americans owned a smartphone in 2016, up from only 35 percent in 2011.

The adoption of these devices has been much more rapid than it was for contemporary technologies such as home broadband, which took almost a decade to reach the same penetration. The upshot is that online banking – and more specifically, mobile banking – may become, for many individuals, the default method of engaging with a bank.

Bank branch closures have highlighted this shift from frequent trips to the bank, to more convenient glances at a bank’s website or mobile app. Wells Fargo alone plans to close 200 branches in 2017; it closed only 84 locations in 2016. The bank cited new preferences for banking over the internet as a main driver of the closures.

Always check to see if the banking site you're visiting has a secure connection.Always check to see if the banking site you’re visiting has a secure connection.

For consumers, online banking seems like a huge upgrade from what came before. However, there are some risks to be aware of, along with some strategies to follow in order to mitigate them.

Be careful with emails

Your bank may communicate with you via text message, notification and/or email. It is important to scrutinize these communications, especially emails, to determine their validity.

If an email asks you to click an external link, you should probably ignore it and just log into your bank’s site manually. Doing so reduces your chances of falling for a phishing scam that steals your sensitive data and perhaps your money, too.

Use secure connections

By their nature, mobile devices move between IP networks and utilize a mix of Wi-Fi and cellular connections depending on the location. Not all of these connections are equally safe.

Public Wi-Fi – e.g., the free Wi-Fi in a coffee shop or shopping center – in particular should be avoided. Using it may expose your login credentials to cyber criminals who are monitoring the network. Utilize a trusted network, consider virtual private network service to encrypt your connection and always check that a banking website starts with “https” instead of plain “http.”

“An existing malware infection greatly complicates online and mobile banking.”

Harden your PC against malware

An existing malware infection greatly complicates online and mobile banking. A virus or piece of spyware might log your keystrokes or make specific websites and apps unreachable.

A solution such as Premium Internet Security from Total Defense shields your PC from a wide variety of threats. With such protection, you can access banking services in peace.

Online banking is the future. But as convenient as it is, it is not perfect. It pays to be smart about how you access your accounts and defend them against cyber crime.