Protecting Yourself Online

Though the internet has many advantages, it can also make users vulnerable to fraud, identity theft and other scams. Here are some tips to keep you safe online:AdobeStock_144724542

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser, and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Set strong passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with. Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov – and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the email.
  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer the security questions in password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, your mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

12 Ways to Protect Your Mobile Device

Your mobile device provides convenient access to your email, bank and social media accounts. Unfortunately, it can potentially provide the same convenient access for criminals. Follow these tips to keep your information – and your money – safe.AdobeStock_94918198

  1. Use the passcode lock on your smartphone and other devices. This will make it more difficult for thieves to access your information if your device is lost or stolen.
  2. Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  3. Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  4. Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms, and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  5. Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  6. Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a Social Security number on your mobile device.
  7. Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  8. Be aware of shoulder surfers. The most basic form of information theft is observation. Be aware of your surroundings especially when you’re punching in sensitive information.
  9. Wipe your mobile device before you donate, sell or trade it using specialized software or using the manufacturer’s recommended technique. Some software allows you to wipe your device remotely if it is lost or stolen.
  10. Beware of mobile phishing. Avoid opening links and attachments in emails and texts, especially from senders you don’t know. And be wary of ads (not from your security provider) claiming that your device is infected.
  11. Watch out for public Wi-Fi. Public connections aren’t very secure, so don’t perform banking transactions on a public network. If you need to access your account, try disabling the Wi-Fi and switching to your mobile network.
  12. Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.

Teach Good Money Habits with a Children’s Savings Account

As a parent, don’t you want your child to have a strong financial future? If so, the earlier you can start teaching them about money, the better. Research has shown that children start to understand the concepts of saving and spending as early as three years old, and some experts believe that money habits are formed by age seven. One way to get your child on the right track financially, is to give them a savings account of their very own.Young boy putting money in piggy bank

A children’s savings account can help lay a solid financial foundation. From teaching the benefits of putting money aside, to allowing children to discover what interest is all about, a savings account can be a great educational tool.

Some of the specific benefits of opening a children’s savings account include:

  • It gets children in the savings habit. By regularly depositing the contents of their piggy bank into a savings account, your child will foster good savings habits they can take with them into adulthood. By the time they head off to college or out into the “real world”, they’ll already be used to routinely putting money aside. As they say – “old habits die hard” – and saving money is a habit you won’t want them to break!
  • They can watch their money grow over time. One valuable lesson is that you don’t have to spend it just because you have it. Kids tend to get excited when they find themselves with a few bucks, but instead of blowing their money on candy or cheap toys, placing it in a savings account can allow them to save up for something special. It can be a satisfying experience for them to watch their money grow with each deposit they make. And, a savings account that pays interest shows a child firsthand how their money can make more money.
  • It puts them on the road to financial freedom. Using a savings account to save for something special can be a great way for your child to learn about financial independence. Rather than rely on Mom and Dad to buy them a new tablet or skateboard, they can use their own funds to make the purchase. Not only does this provide them with a sense of achievement, but it helps to teach them the value of a dollar. They won’t be as inclined to waste money down the road once they know how much effort goes into saving up for a treasured item.
  • It can serve as a stepping stone to other financial products and services. By managing their funds in a savings account, kids can learn about interest and the difference between deposits and withdrawals. If their account comes with an ATM card, they’ll also learn how ATM transactions work, and what the consequences can be if they overdraw their account. All of these lessons will come in handy down the road when they open a checking account, or try out different savings vehicles like certificates of deposit (CDs), or Money Market accounts.

A children’s savings account can be a great way to lay the groundwork for sound financial habits. As for deciding where to open your child’s account, there are many options out there. You can go with an account specifically tailored to children, you can opt for an online-only account – which typically offer higher interest rates than traditional accounts – or you can open an account at your regular bank. Generally, you’ll want to look for an account that offers a competitive interest rate, and that doesn’t have a minimum balance requirement or monthly maintenance fee. And keep in mind that no matter what type of account you choose, any child under the age of 18 will need a parent or guardian listed on the account as well.

How Safe are Paper Checks?

There was a time when people didn’t give a second thought to paying their bills by check and sending them out via postal mail. But with all the fraud going on in the world today, you may be wondering just how safe those paper checks really are.AdobeStock_39616999

The truth is that checks can pose a host of problems from a security standpoint. For one, the front of a check typically contains an abundance of sensitive information such as name, address, financial institution, routing number, and bank account number – quite the payload for a crook.

To make matters worse, there are some retailers and government entities that require you to write your driver’s license number or Social Security number on a check before they will accept it. And after the check is handed over, there’s no telling how many employees could have access to that information.

If your check falls into the hands of someone who isn’t trustworthy, it could open a Pandora’s Box down the road, including identity theft and account takeover. Just by having the account and routing numbers, thieves can go on an online spending spree.

And even if you limit your check writing to just paying a few bills by postal mail each month, there’s still a possibility that your mail could be intercepted along the way. According to the United States Postal Inspection Service, in an average year it responds to more than 27,000 consumer fraud complaints, including reports of identity theft. And, it arrests around 10,000 criminal suspects each year for crimes like mail theft and possession of stolen mail.

It’s also important to keep in mind that if fraudulent transactions occur as a result of thieves stealing your bank account information from a check, your legal protections are generally more limited than if your credit card was compromised. In most cases, financial institutions require that any check-related fraud be reported within 2 days, or you could be liable for up to $500 of the fraudulent transactions. What’s more, if you fail to report the fraud within 60 days, you could be liable for all the money that was stolen. It’s worth noting that some financial institutions offer more extensive liability protection for check-related fraud, but they’re not required to by law.

Given how easy it could be for a criminal to access your personal and banking information via a paper check, you might be asking – should I use them at all? The truth is that checks are still around for a reason, and in some cases they still could be your best bet.

  • They can help you avoid extra fees – In some cases, government agencies or utility companies may accept credit card and debit card payments, but charge extra for them. If you’re looking to pay your car tax bill, and you’re going to be slapped with a fee for paying with a card, you might be better off sticking a check in the mail.
  • You can still make payments during a power outage – If your community is hit with a hurricane or other major weather event, you could find yourself without power for days. Unfortunately, you’ll likely still be expected to pay your bills on time. If you don’t have access to the internet to make online payments, you may find yourself needing to pay by check.
  • Not everyone accepts credit card payments – Believe it or not, some independent contractors and small, local businesses don’t accept credit card payments. For a lot of businesses like photographers, home improvement contractors, and flea market vendors, checks are still preferred over credit cards.

So, if you do find that having a checkbook is a necessity for your lifestyle and current financial situation, just keep these tips in mind to help avoid becoming a victim of check fraud:

  • Use online bill pay whenever possible so that payments are withdrawn directly from your checking account without you having to write a check. Another option is to use a peer-to-peer payment system like PopMoney, PayPal or Venmo to pay bills, friends or contractors.
  • Limit the number of paper checks you write as much as possible. That includes reducing or eliminating altogether the use of checks at physical retail locations.
  • If paying bills by postal mail, drop off the mail at a U.S. Postal Service mailbox or at the post office. These mailboxes are typically much more secure than your personal mailbox at home. And make it hard to tell that there are checks in the envelopes, by covering them in plain white paper, or using security tint envelopes.
  • Never carry around a checkbook or blank checks with you. If your purse is stolen, or you lose your checkbook, a crook could easily get their hands on your personal and financial information.
  • Always write a specific name of a business or person on the line that says “Pay to the order of.” And never write “Cash” in this space. If the check is misplaced or stolen, and it says “Cash”, anyone can cash it.
  • Check your bank statements online at least once a week to ensure that any checks you have written are being cashed and that no fraudulent activity is occurring with your account.

Paper checks can still be helpful in some instances, but it’s important to know the risks associated with them. By keeping these precautions in mind, you can help to keep your bank account, and your checks, as safe as possible.

Stay Safe And Secure While Banking Online

No one likes to be taken advantage of. But in today’s world of online banking, there are plenty of cyber thieves looking to do just that to unsuspecting people.online-banking-security-tips

That’s why it’s important to always be on high alert when conducting online banking transactions and related financial activity via the internet. At Bank5 Connect, your online security is one of our highest priorities. So much so that we want to share some best practices to keep your online bank accounts safe and secure, whether they’re with Bank5 Connect or another financial institution.

  • Consider using a separate computer exclusively for online banking to protect it from malicious software, also known as malware. Malware is often contracted while browsing the web, using social networks, sending and receiving email, or playing online games.
  • Use online or mobile banking to check your accounts on a regular basis, such as once or twice a week. Frequent checks will help you identify, and act on, any suspicious activity.
  • Take advantage of email or text message alerts offered by most banks. These account notifications can alert you when your balance falls below a certain level or when there is a transaction over a certain amount. Some banks offer alerts for suspicious account activity as well.
  • Set strong, unique passwords and change them on a regular basis. You should use passwords that are at least 8 characters long and include a combination of symbols, capital and lowercase letters, and numbers. And remember to make your passwords hard to crack. It’s never a good idea to use common words, or the names of family members or pets as passwords.
  • Never use the same password for several accounts, and don’t share your passwords with anyone.
  • Always fully log out of your online banking sessions. And once you’re logged out, close your browser for additional security.
  • When you’re logged into online banking, never leave your computer or device unattended.
  • Update your device’s security software, operating system and browser on a regular basis.
  • Only conduct your online banking business from a secure internet connection. Never log into your account from a public computer, or a public Wi-Fi network. Free Wi-Fi in a hotel or coffee shop might be convenient, but it’s not worth the security risk. If you must access your online banking account on-the-go, it’s much safer to use your phone’s cellular network than a public Wi-Fi connection.
  • If you’re using a computer for online banking, ensure that it has firewall protection. A firewall creates a barrier between your computer and an external network, such as the internet. This controls incoming and outgoing network traffic and helps screen out cyber criminals, malware and other damaging intrusions.
  • Make sure you’re using an encrypted wireless connection at home.

Being vigilant about your online security, and staying on top of your account activity can go a long way toward protecting your bank account from cyber criminals. But remember, if you do spot any suspicious transactions in your account, alert your financial institution immediately. The sooner you identify fraud and notify your bank, the greater your chance of a speedy resolution.

For more information on how to stay safe online, visit http://www.bank5connect.com/home/security/fraud-prevention.

Tax Tips for a Safer Tax Season

Did you know that if you haven’t filed your tax return yet, a criminal could beat you to it? This type of crime is becoming more widespread every year. But luckily, there are some tax tips you can follow to help protect your return from these unscrupulous criminals.Tax form concept

Because the Internal Revenue Service only accepts one tax return per Social Security number, the sooner you file your return, the less likely you are to have a thief snatch up your rightful refund.

In additional to filing as early as possible, it’s important to do everything you can to shield your personal information from potential criminals. If they can’t get their hands on your Social Security number, they can’t file a return in your name. Here are some general recommendations to keep in mind:

  • Ensure that your computer and mobile devices have the latest web browsers, and security software installed. This is your best line of defense in protecting the contents of your device, and the information you share online.
  • Always use a secure internet connection when you submit or transfer sensitive information online. You can tell that a website is secure by checking for a URL that begins with “https://”, and a padlock symbol alongside the URL in the address bar of your internet browser.
  • Remember to shred paper documents that contain sensitive information, instead of just tossing them in the garbage. These types of documents could include drafts of your tax returns, copies of your W-2 forms, pay stubs, medical bills, or credit card and bank account statements.
  • Don’t give out your Social Security number unless absolutely necessary. And don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or store the number on your computer or cell phone.
  • Do your homework before hiring a tax preparer. Make sure you can trust them with your personal information. And ensure that they sign your return with their IRS Preparer Identification Number. The tax preparer identification system was developed as an added layer of protection against tax fraud.
  • Don’t use public wireless networks (such as those in coffee shops and restaurants) to work on your tax return or file it. Cyber crooks can intercept internet connections on these unsecure networks and gain access to your information.
  • Use strong, complex passwords for all of your online accounts, especially your online tax e-filing account, if you have one.
  • Consider using a USB memory stick or external hard drive to store sensitive tax data that you need to prepare your return. This will lessen the chance of cyber crooks stealing the information directly from your computer. The external drive or stick also serves as a backup should you encounter a crash or other problem with your computer.
  • Be aware that the IRS will never email or call you concerning tax issues or any back taxes you may owe. If the IRS needs to contact you regarding a tax matter, they will do so via regular postal mail. So, if you receive an email or phone call from someone who says they are from the IRS, odds are that they’re an imposter looking to steal your personal information. Never provide them with your bank account credentials, or your credit and debit card information, and never wire them money – you’ll never get it back.

It’s a shame that there are so many criminals out there looking to get their hands on your hard-earned tax refund, but armed with these tax tips, you should stand a much better chance of protecting yourself this tax season.

Establish an Emergency Fund for Life’s Unplanned Expenses

What happens if your car breaks down in the middle of the road? Or the boss tells you that the company is downsizing and you’ll be losing your job? What if your heating system decides to die in the middle of winter? Or you need to be hospitalized immediately? If any of these emergencies were to happen today, are you financially prepared for them? emergency-fund-for-lifes-unplanned-expenses

If your answer is “no,” then it’s a good time to think about setting up an emergency fund. Having enough money to cover unplanned expenses makes it easier to recover from life’s bumps and bruises, and can help alleviate stress in emergency situations and provide peace of mind.

But you may be wondering – doesn’t a credit card serve as a good backup for funds in case of emergencies? Of course it does, but you need to keep a few things in mind. For starters, credit cards provide borrowed money, which means you have to pay it back. And if you don’t pay it all back at once when your monthly statement comes due, you’ll be hit with interest. Interest charges can snowball pretty quickly, and for a lot of people they can lead to massive credit card debt.

Financial experts will tell you that an emergency fund should be part of every household budget. It should be as high of a priority as putting money aside for a down payment on a new house or car, or financing your child’s college education.

But how do you know what’s an adequate amount to have in an emergency fund? A good goal for your emergency savings account could be anywhere from three months’ worth of your salary to a year’s worth of your salary, depending on how much you make each year, and how prepared you’d like to be. When deciding the right amount of savings to aim for, think of what it would be like to unexpectedly lose your job. How much would be enough to pay for routine monthly household bills such as rent/mortgage payments, utility bills, and groceries? And how many months do you think it would take you to find a new job?

It may seem overwhelming to think about amassing that much money, but it’s okay to start small. By earmarking a certain amount of money to stash away in your emergency fund each month, you’ll be on your way to achieving your goal emergency balance. And one of the best ways to ensure you stick to your savings plan, is set up your paycheck to direct deposit a certain amount from each paycheck directly into your emergency savings account. If you don’t see the money, you likely won’t miss it! If your job offers direct deposit, your employer can likely help you set it up so your paycheck is split between your desired accounts.

Another way to reach your savings goals as quickly as possible is to stash your money in a high-interest savings account. Many online-only banks offer higher interest rates than traditional brick-and-mortar banks, because they have fewer overhead costs. Online banks save on costs associated with running physical locations, and they pass those cost-savings along to customers in the form of higher interest rates. The higher the interest rate, the more your money grows.

The key is to stick to your emergency savings plan, and make sure that you contribute to it on a regular basis until you reach your balance goal. You’ll be happy you did when an emergency arises and you have the money to pay for it without racking up debt.