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How to Protect Your Financial Transactions from Fraud

With many of us still working from home and virtual school becoming the new norm (for now), online fraud and ID theft continue to thrive. The unpleasant activity of fraudsters and hackers hasn’t let up during the pandemic, it’s actually become worse – with a whole new bucket of scams preying on our homebound online-all-the-time vulnerabilities. 

October is not only the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity Awareness Month, it’s also the beginning of the holiday shopping season. Want to keep your personal information safe? Now is a great time for a refresher course on your financial transactions and cybersecurity – what to know, what to do and not do, and how to protect yourself.

Keep Your Financial Accounts Safe

Coinciding with Cybersecurity Awareness Month, the American Bankers Association has launched their #BanksNeverAskThat campaign designed to bring awareness to phishing.  Phishing is when a hacker attempts to trick you into revealing PIN numbers, passwords, or your account or social security number via email or text. Financial institutions would never ask you for personal information via email or text. Never. If someone contacts you online for this information, don’t give it out. Fraudsters may also pose as representatives from your bank and call you on the phone.  If you have a reason to question the legitimacy of the caller, politely end the call and contact your financial institution back on their main customer service number. (Learn more about phishing on the ABA site.)

Check Your Statements

It’s always a good idea to check your statements every month, if you get them in the mail. If you bank online or use your bank’s mobile app, you can check your account activity more frequently. Be on the lookout for fraudulent charges, no matter how insignificant they are. Even the smallest charge could be a fraudster’s activity using your stolen account information. Fraudsters have been known to siphon funds in small unnoticeable amounts from multiple personal accounts. They also may be checking to see if they can draw on your account with a small debit, with the info they have, to prepare for a larger debit the next time. If you aren’t sure you made the purchase, contact your bank and ask what the charge is and where it came from.

Avoid Public Wi-fi When Making Financial Transactions

Making purchases or other financial transactions that involve your personal information – such as account numbers and login info – aren’t a smart use of the free wi-fi at your local coffee shop, or even on the commuter rail. It’s best to use a known network, like the one at your home or at work. A public network is less secure for a variety of reasons, including how it was set up, who configured it, and what unknown users are connecting to it. How they hack it? Hackers often use what is known as a man-in-the-middle (MITM) attack, accessing unsecured or poorly secured wi-fi routers. When they find a hole, hackers can intercept data such as passwords and personal information.

Beware of Fake Sellers and Bogus Deals

If it sounds too good to be true, dig a little deeper.  A web shop with deals that are outrageously good, is probably fake. Look closely at the sites of retailers you have never heard of. Are they riddled with pop-up ads? Read their reviews, if they have any. If you’re still not convinced, find that great deal somewhere else. It’s usually a better idea to do business with trusted sites when it comes to shopping online. You still need to be careful. You may receive an email for a great offer from a retailer you think you know, but that too could be fake. A hacker may have created a fake website linked from the email that mimics a known retailer’s, but whose URL is off by a letter or two (example: myfavstore.com vs. myfavvstore.com). When you visit the mimicked site, you might get asked to update your personal account information to make a purchase. This is called “typosquatting” or “URL hijacking.”

Use an App

Looking for that special something for that special someone? There’s a good chance the retailer who has it in stock, has an app. Don’t shop the website if your retailer has an online app. Most, if not all, large retailers have dedicated apps for download. They’re safer than shopping off of a website. If you need to go to a store or shop to make an in-person purchase, you can use your phone instead of a credit card or debit card. Mobile payment apps like Apple Pay generate one-time authentication codes for purchases that make for secure transactions. It also helps you to avoid using a debit or credit card skimmer at checkout.

Use Contactless Debit Cards for In-Person Transactions

If you want to use your debit card, making in-store purchases is also safer with contactless cards. Instead of using a card skimmer, you can look for the contactless symbol at checkout. Contactless debit cards – like the one offered by Atlantic Union Bank – offer secure transactions that are encrypted with a unique one-time code that protects your payment information, much like the smart phone payment app mentioned above. As with the payment app, contactless cards also offer a benefit of the “new normal” – avoiding unnecessary contact during purchasing interactions and transactions. (Atlantic Union Bank’s Contactless Debit Cards also feature Debit Card Controls which allow you to keep tabs on your transactions easier with the ability to turn your card off if you suspect fraud.)

In most cases, ID theft and fraud can be prevented by keeping your guard up. This Cybersecurity Awareness Month, take the time to make yourself aware of some of the methods hackers and fraudsters might use to ruin your day. Most of them are easy to spot and avoid.

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