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Tips for Securing Online and Mobile Banking

With the ease of online banking and paperless bills, many Americans have made the switch to managing accounts on the web. However, with this new power comes greater responsibility. Online banking is a fabulous tool, but you have to be safe about it.

Earlier this month, hackers broke into French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s bank accounts, stealing several small sums of money after obtaining the president’s online access codes. While spokesmen for Sarkozy didn’t give details, one insider claimed that it was “classic hacking.” Two men were arrested on October 21 for identity theft — without realizing the prominence of the identity.

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The French government might have been right saying no one is safe, but there are easy precautions you can take to protect your money. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) provides a library of tips on safe online banking, including how to tell if bank websites are legitimate and how to set up strong passwords (usually involving a combo of letters and numbers). You should also look for a small “lock” or “key” logo somewhere on your browser window to ensure the site is encrypted and authenticated for your data protection.

As more people are accessing the web by cellphone, banks have caught on with mobile banking apps. Bank of America, for example, has an iPhone app, where customers can check balances, pay bills and transfer funds from their smartphones. You might be hesitant, since logging into sensitive data sites over wireless networks is usually frowned upon. However, Apple’s iPhone store is highly stringent on what applications make it to iTunes, particularly when it comes to security, as is anything made for the Google Android platform.

If you’re a developer or just curious about how the apps are put together, there are companies out there that provide security tool-kits for your product. Mocana, for example, has a complete suite of security features especially for the Google Android platform, including secure browsers, virtual private networks clients for secure data transmissions and malware protection.

As strict as these security infrastructures might be on wireless networks, they don’t necessarily prevent account invasion when you lose your phone on the subway. Thus, it’s always a good idea to password-protect your phone. And (this goes for both online and mobile banking), be sure to log off and close your browser after accessing your accounts. You wouldn’t leave your bank card hanging in front of the ATM, would you?

– Rachel King