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 takeoverAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!. 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.

Shield Yourself from Debit Card Fraud

Chances are, you know someone who’s been a victim of fraud. Maybe you’ve even fallen victim yourself. With daily stories about credit card fraud and identity theft hitting the news, consumers need to be proactive about protecting themselves from fraudulent activity.shield-yourself-from-debit-card-fraud

One type of fraud to stay extra cautious about is debit card fraud. With debit cards, the stakes are higher than with a credit card. If a thief gets his hands on your card information as well as your PIN, your entire bank account could be drained in minutes. And Federal law doesn’t protect debit cards to the same degree as credit cards. If you notify the bank within two days of discovering a lost or stolen card, the most you will be liable for in terms of fraud is $50. After two days however, your liability can jump to as much as $500, and after 60 days you could be liable for all of the fraudulent activity, depending on your financial institution.

So what is a debit card user to do? Luckily there are steps you can take to protect yourself, and your bank account from fraudsters looking to steal your financial information.

Beware of card skimmers. You’ve probably heard about card skimmersAs a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon! in the news, and unfortunately they’re becoming more and more prevalent. These are devices that criminals install over the legitimate card readers at ATMs and point-of-sale terminals like gas pumps and self-service store checkout lanes. When you insert your card into the reader, the skimmer captures the card information so the crook can access it. Many skimmers look so much like the real thing that they’re difficult to spot, but there are some key things to look out for. A good habit to get into is to look around at the terminals next to you to see what their readers look like. If they look different than the card reader at your terminal, it’s very possible yours is affixed with a skimmer. You should also always check for any signs of tampering, or any aspect of the card reader or keypad that isn’t aligned correctly. And if the color of the reader is different from the color scheme used on the rest of the terminal, it could also be a sign that a skimmer has been installed.

Look who’s watching. It’s not uncommon for crooks to install miniature cameras near ATMs and payment terminals, so that they can watch people enter their PIN numbers. A more low-tech, but equally painful scam involves “shoulder surfing”, where a crook will literally look over your shoulder to obtain your card number and watch as you type in your PIN. One way to protect against this type of intrusion is to shield the front of your card, and cover the keypad with your other hand to block the view of a camera, or anyone nearby, from seeing what you’re typing in.

Don’t put yourself in a vulnerable position. Perhaps one of the easiest, and scariest, ways for a criminal to steal your debit card information is to ambush you at the ATM and demand your card and PIN number. To safeguard against this type of attack, try to conduct ATM transactions during daylight hours. If you do need to use an ATM at night, make sure you pick one that’s in a well-lit area. And if you see someone who looks suspicious lurking near an ATM, don’t use it.

Be wary of helpful strangers. In one type of unsophisticated debit card scam, the perpetrator will insert something into the card reader prior to the victim using it which will cause the card to get stuck in the machine. The crook will commonly offer help by telling the victim that entering their PIN again should get the card out, and they’ll watch closely while the PIN is re-entered. Of course, the card won’t come back out, and when the victim leaves, the criminal uses tools to get the card out of the machine, and walks away with the victim’s card and PIN number. Anytime your card gets stuck in an ATM, forego any offered help from a stranger, and instead immediately notify your financial institution and the owner of the ATM.

Keep close tabs on your account. Use online and mobile banking to check your account balance and card activity at least weekly, and sign up for account alerts if they’re available from your financial institution. These notifications will help keep you up-to-speed on any irregular activity in your account, so you can report it immediately to your financial institution.

Staying alert and being on the lookout for anything amiss is the best line of defense in protecting yourself from debit card fraud. Debit cards can be a convenient tool for helping you to manage and access your money, but it’s also important to know the risks associated with debit card use, and how to minimize them.

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.

Keep Thieves from Getting Their Hands on Your Passwords

When’s the last time you changed the password for your online banking account? Or for the website where you pay your credit card bill? If you can’t remember, now’s a good time to switch it up. And don’t create a new password that’s easy to figure out, or use the same password you’re already using for other accounts. That’s just looking for trouble.prevent-thieves-from-getting-your-passwords

Cyber security experts offer a number of tips to help ward off online thieves. And rightfully so, since millions of people fall victim to cyber-crimes every year.

Have a password that’s easy to remember? Chances are it’s going to be easy for a thief to figure out, too. Sure, it’s hard to forget “123abc”, but using such a short and simple password is an open invitation to cyber theft.

Mix it up. Experts recommend using a combination of upper and lower case letters, numbers, and symbols to create a password. And throw in a made-up word or two, like “beahighve” or ‘”jabberwockysnark”.

Don’t get personal. You know how you post all those photos of your pet on Facebook and mention her by name, then use that name as a password? That’s easy pickings for a thief. So stay away from such things as names and birth dates and addresses.

Make it long. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. That is, if you follow the previous suggestions for creating a password.

Don’t share. That may sound rude, but passwords aren’t meant to be shared with friends, partners, family members, or neighbors. They’re intended to protect you and your information. So keep them to yourself.

Alter them frequently. It’s recommended that passwords be changed every month or so.

Get some help. If you’re having a tough time keeping track of all your passwords, there are software programs that can manage them for you. Some are free; others you have to pay for. These programs store your login credentials for all the websites you use, and help you access those sites automatically. They encrypt your password database with a master password, which is then the only password you have to remember.

Stay out of the public eye. That free Wi-Fi at the coffee shop down the street may be enticing to use, but it’s not going to protect you from cyber crooks. They love public Wi-Fi because it gives them easy access to people’s passwords and online accounts.

Don’t get lazy. Isn’t it great how some websites will “remember” login and password information for you so you don’t have to type it in every time you visit those sites? Convenient, yes, but this “remembering” feature is yet another avenue cyber thieves can use to uncover your login credentials.

Remember that when it comes to passwords, the first line of defense is you. So don’t open yourself up to thievery by failing to follow these basic password safeguards.

Feel Safe and Secure With Online Banking

The popularity of online and mobile banking continues to rise, largely due to its convenience and ease-of-use. And doing your banking online can be just as safe as banking at a brick-and-mortar bank, as long as you take the proper precautions.AdobeStock_52514650

Here are some general tips for helping to ensure a safe and secure online banking experience:

Ensure the bank is insured.

If you’re beginning a relationship with an online bank, it’s important to verify the bank’s insurance status. Check their website for an FDIC logo or the words “Member FDIC” or “FDIC Insured”.

The FDIC has an online database of FDIC-insured institutions at https://research.fdic.gov/bankfind/As a courtesy, you will be leaving Blog.Bank5Connect.com and going to another website. We have approved this site as a reliable partner, but you will no longer be under the security policy of Bank5Connect.com. Come back soon!. You can use this database to determine if your online bank or a bank you’re interested in is covered under FDIC insurance. You can search for an institution by the bank’s name or address. A positive match will display the official name of the bank, the date it became insured, its insurance certificate number, the main office location for the bank, its primary government regulator, and other links to detailed information about the bank.

When using this tool though, be aware that some banks, like Bank5 Connect, operate under a “DBA” name (also known as a “doing business as” name). A DBA name will not work with the FDIC database tool, so you’ll need to search with the bank’s address instead.

Also keep in mind that not all online banks are insured by the FDIC. Many banks that are not FDIC-insured are chartered overseas. Check with your bank or the FDIC if you are uncertain whether your deposits are insured.

Bank5 Connect is FDIC insured, and also insured by the Depositors Insurance Fund (DIF). There is no dollar limit to the DIF’s insurance coverage; they cover everything above FDIC limits. What this means is that all Bank5 Connect deposits are insured in full. To learn more about Bank5 Connect’s DIF coverage, please visit http://www.bank5connect.com/home/misc/fully-insured-deposits.

Make sure the online banking website is secure.

Whenever you’re entering sensitive personal or financial information online, be sure to check to make sure the website is secure. First and foremost, you should ensure that the browser is showing “HTTPS” instead of “HTTP” on the page where you’re entering the sensitive information. HTTPS is the secure version of HTTP, the protocol over which data is transmitted between the browser and the website. The “S” at the end of HTTPS stands for “secure”. When you see the “HTTPS” (some browsers also display a small icon of a lock or a key next to the web address when you’re on a secure page), it means that all communication between your browser and the website are encrypted. Encryption is the process of scrambling private information to prevent unauthorized access.

And even if the bank’s website is secure, it doesn’t mean that sending an email to an address listed on the website is secure. You should never send sensitive information, such as account numbers or social security numbers, through unsecured e-mail.

Use a strong password or PIN.

When you’re deciding on a password or PIN (personal identification number) for online banking, be sure it is not a password or PIN that you use for other websites or accounts, and ensure it is strong. Never use something that’s easy to guess (no common words, names of loved ones, or birthdates), and use a mix of numbers, letters, and symbols for increased security. Passwords should also be changed regularly, and remember to never share your password or PIN with others.

Use a secure device and network.

Any time you’re doing banking activity online, make sure your computer or mobile device’s virus protection and other security software is up to date. It’s also important to never transmit sensitive information or conduct banking business over public Wi-Fi networks.

Check your bank accounts regularly.

Even if you follow all of the steps above, you should still get in the habit of monitoring your bank accounts on at least a weekly basis for any irregular or suspicious activity. If you do notice any strange transactions, be sure to notify your banking institution immediately.

Chip-Enabled Cards Help Prevent Fraud

It wasn’t that long ago when few, if any, people in the U.S. knew what a chip-enabled card was. Today, millions of these cards are now in circulation across the nation, much to the disappointment of fraudsters.AdobeStock_22591245

That’s because chip-enabled debit and credit cards make it a lot more difficult for crooks to steal data, especially compared to their older cousins – magnetic stripe cards. The technology used for each type of card is what makes the difference.

Chip-enabled cards take advantage of EMV technology. EMV stands for Europay, MasterCard and Visa – a global standard for credit and debit cards. All Bank5 Connect debit cards are now equipped with EMV chips for added security.

Older cards that lack chip technology have their data embedded in the magnetic stripe on the back of the card. The problem is, that this data doesn’t change from one transaction to another. This means that if a thief happens to steal the data during an in-person transaction (by using a card skimmer, or installing malware on the cash register system) they can then turn around and create counterfeit cards with the stolen data.

Each time a chip-enabled card is used for payment in a chip reader however, the card’s chip creates a unique transaction code that cannot be used again. So if a thief creates a fake card based on transaction information stolen from a chip-embedded card, the fake card will be denied because the information will be outdated.

The process of inserting a chip-enabled card into a chip reader is called card “dipping”, as opposed to the “swiping” method used for magnetic stripe cards. If you’ve used a chip reader, you may have noticed that the transaction takes a few seconds longer than a card swipe. This is because when a card is “dipped”, information has to flow between the chip and the financial institution that issued the card in order to verify the card and create the unique transaction data. But, this slightly longer transaction time is well worth the additional security!

Since the switch to EMV chip technology began in the United States in October 2015, it’s estimated that 40-60 million chip-enabled cards have replaced magnetic stripe cards. Bank5 Connect alone has issued thousands of chip-enabled debit cards to its customers.

Unlike Europe, where EMV cards have been in use for many years, it’s going to take some time before chip-embedded technology is fully in place across the U.S. A major reason for the slow switchover is the cost involved with creating the new cards and installing the equipment needed to read them. The good news is that chip-enabled cards are still equipped with a magnetic stripe on the back of them, so if you happen to be checking out at a retailer who hasn’t yet installed a chip reader, you can still pay for your purchase with a good old-fashioned card swipe.

While chip-embedded cards provide an added defense against fraud, there are still ways that thieves can get their hands on your card information. Keep in mind that the card still has a magnetic stripe, and any purchases you make with a “swipe” do not utilize the chip’s security benefits. And it’s still possible to lose your card, have it stolen, or have it compromised during an online purchase. Because of this, it’s always wise to monitor your bank statements and card activity on a regular basis. If you suspect someone has used your card fraudulently, you should immediately alert your bank or the financial institution that issued your card.

Don’t Get Hooked By A Cyber Crook

Sometimes you have to think like a crook in order to fight off a crook. For instance, what runs through the mind of a cyber thief seeking an unsuspecting victim?AdobeStock_92627697

  1. I’m looking for someone who uses the same password for several online accounts. That includes bank accounts and credit card accounts.
  2. How do I figure out what that password is? Hmmm, I’ll look for clues that they put out there on social media like Facebook and Twitter. Personal information like the name of their pet or one of their children. Look, they have a dog name Fido. Then let’s try Fido123 as their password. Voila! It works!
  3. Now, let’s see if their home Wi-Fi is password protected. If I can get into their network without a password, I can then check if their computer has anti-virus software.
  4. OK, I have access to their bank account. But I’m not going to clean it out right away. I’ll make a small purchase here and there to see if they’re checking their account regularly. And if they’re not, I’m going to go for the big score!

If any of this strikes close to home, then it’s time to strengthen your cyber defenses. You can do that by following these tips by cyber security experts:

  • Use a different password for each online account you have, and change it frequently. Each password should include a combination of letters, numbers, and symbols.
  • Don’t share passwords with others, even if it’s a friend or a family member.
  • Avoid using personal information when selecting passwords or answers to security questions, especially if this information can be easily found by others online, such as on your Facebook page.
  • Don’t save passwords on your computer, tablet or smart phone. Instead, put pen to paper and write them down on a note pad or in a journal. There is also password management software designed specifically to keep track of your passwords.
  • Password-protect your desktop computer, laptop, tablet and mobile phone, as well as your Wi-Fi service at home.
  • Monitor your bank account online at least once a week. Do the same for credit card and debit card activity, especially if you use your cards on a regular basis.
  • If you discover suspicious or unauthorized charges in one or more of your accounts, contact the affected financial institutions immediately. Note that a popular tactic of cyber thieves is to “sneak” small transactions by victims to see if they’re paying attention to their account activity. If they see those transactions going undetected, they’ll swoop in to make major purchases that could have a significant financial impact.
  • Install anti-virus software on your computer and keep it up to date. This is especially important if you do a lot of transactions online, such as buying items or services. And avoid making purchases on sites you’re unfamiliar with.
  • Log off or turn off your computer when you’re not using it. And close your browser and sensitive apps before going offline.
  • Don’t open e-mails or attachments from suspicious or unknown sources. These are typical approaches used by cyber crooks to gain access to information on your computer or take control of it. The same goes for links that are in e-mails. Unless you know for sure where those links are going to take you, don’t click on them.
  • Never access your financial institution’s website for online banking or to make credit card payments from a public computer at a hotel, library, coffee house or other public wireless access point.

No matter if you’re on your smart phone, computer or tablet, always be alert and on guard against cyber criminals.