How to Safely Bank and Shop Online

You can’t be too protective of your financial information online. While banks and businesses work to make sure their customers’ information is secure, you can play a part in safeguarding your money, too. Here’s how.

Beef up online security at home. Secure your home online access with some simple steps: Install antivirus software on your computer. Also, protect your Wi-Fi with a seriously complicated password and be selective about giving it out. When you complete financial transactions, log out and close the browser.

Pick complex passwords and change them quarterly. If your passwords are your dog’s name and your birthdate, change them immediately — information easily found on social media can be used as clues by hackers. Follow website password guidelines that recommend combinations of numbers, symbols, and upper- and lower-case letters.

A creative way to craft a memorable password is to coin a phrase that guides you. For example, “I’m saving for my future!” might translate to “1mSving4mF!” (But don’t use this one, of course.).

Say no to free Wi-Fi. Free Wi-Fi in coffee shops, hotels, and other public places is often unsecured and can expose your information and passwords to cyber criminals. When you do use public Wi-Fi, be sure to only use secured sites that encrypt information sent over the Internet. To make sure a site is secure, look for a web address beginning with the letters “https” and a closed padlock symbol in the address bar.

If you must shop or bank from public areas, consider downloading a virtual private network, or VPN. That will mask your Internet address and encrypt your information.

Protect mobile devices. Only download software and apps from financial institutions you do business with, like Charles River Bank, or from authorized online stores. Logoff of banking and credit card apps when you finish using them. Keep software current because updates often enhance security features, and protect your screen from prying eyes in public places.

Make sure your Smartphone and tablet are password protected, and don’t leave them unattended and unlocked.

Be skeptical of unsolicited emails. Criminals distribute scams via email, a tactic called phishing, to trick consumers into giving out information such as bank account, credit card and Social Security numbers. If you receive an email from someone you don’t know, don’t reply — even it looks official. Banks, credit card companies and the U.S. government will never ask for sensitive information by email.

Don’t click on links, as they can be set up to spread viruses or other sorts of malware, and don’t call numbers provided. Instead, search online for the business to see if it’s legitimate.

By taking these few simple steps, you can greatly increase your online security and thwart hackers’ efforts to steal your personal information.

Terri Kaufman, NerdWallet

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