Tips for Safe Online Banking

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When it comes to online banking, there is no way to absolutely guarantee your safety. However, good practices do exist that can reduce the risks posed to your online accounts. The following sections describe these practices.

1: Review your bank’s information about its online privacy policies and practices.

By law, banks are required to send you a copy of their privacy policies and practices annually; you may also request a copy of this information (see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Title 16: Commercial practices, Part 313.9 – Delivering Privacy and Opt-Out Notices for more information). Bank websites should also have this information. As you read this information, pay particular attention to any mention of the methods used for encrypting transactions and authenticating user information. Also, check the information to see if the bank requires additional security information before authorizing a payment to a business or individual that has never received a payment before.

2: Before setting up any online bill payment, check the privacy policy of the company or service you will be sending payment to.

You have the right to limit the information an online bank shares with both its parent organization and any other financial institutions (see “Protecting Your Privacy” and “How Anonymous Are You?” for more information). Be aware that some online banks may have separate procedures for handling each of these requests. You may also want to use a service such as the Better Business Bureau to view any existing history of outstanding consumer complaints about privacy violations.

3: For security purposes, choose an online personal identification number (PIN) that is unique and hard to guess.

Be sure to change your PIN regularly. Do not choose a PIN that contains personal information such as your birthday or Social Security number; an attacker might be able to guess these. Regardless of the circumstances, never give someone access to your current PIN number (see “Choosing and Protecting Passwords” for more information).

4: Install anti-virus, firewall, and anti-spyware programs on your computer and keep them up to date.

Installing and updating this software protects your computer and its contents against unauthorized access. You should turn on automatic updates for these programs or, if prompted, always agree to download system updates as soon as they are available (see “Understanding Anti-Virus Software,” “Understanding Firewalls,” and “Recognizing and Avoiding Spyware” for more information).

Produced 2006 by US-CERT, a government organization. Updated 2008. 3 Regularly check your online account balance for unauthorized activity.

Timing is a factor in your response to unauthorized electronic fund transactions. If you receive a paper account balance, make sure that you reconcile it with your online balance.

5: Use a credit card to pay for online goods and services.

Credit cards usually have stronger protection against personal liability claims than debit cards. Some credit cards limit personal liability for unauthorized transactions to $50. Personal liability for debit cards can be higher. According to the Federal Reserve’s Regulation E, if you report an electronic fund transaction problem involving debit cards to a bank or financial institution in the first two days, you are only liable for $50. Reporting that same incident between 3 and 60 days increases your personal liability to $500. After 60 days, there are no financial restrictions placed on your personal liability (see Electronic Code of Federal Regulations, Title 12: Banks and Banking, Part 205 – Electronic Fund Transfers (Regulation E) for more information).

6: Avoid situations where personal information can be intercepted, retrieved, or viewed by unauthorized individuals.

You should conduct online bank transactions in locations that are not subject to public monitoring. When you are entering login information, you should avoid using unsecured or public network connections (for example, at a coffee shop or library). As a general rule, you should avoid using any computer that other people can freely access; the end result could be unauthorized access of your financial information. Remember, it is possible for your account information to be stored in the web browser’s temporary memory (see “Guidelines for Publishing Information Online” for more information).

7: If you receive email correspondence about a financial account, verify its authenticity by contacting your bank or financial institution.

You should not reply to any email requests for security information, warnings of an account suspension, opportunities to make easy money, overseas requests for financial assistance, and so forth. Also, links found in these suspicious emails should not be clicked. Forward a copy of the suspicious email to the Federal Trade Commission at [email protected] and then delete the email from your mailbox.

8: If you have disclosed financial information to a fraudulent website, file reports with the following organizations:

  • your bank
  • the local police
  • the Federal Trade Commission – http://www.ftc.gov
  • the Internet Crime Complaint Center – http://www.ic3.gov
  • the three major credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (see “Preventing and Responding to Identity Theft” for more information).

Source: CISA, Banking Securely Online,


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