Every year, millions of consumers fall victim to cybercrime. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, in 2014 consumers lost more than $800 million from scams initiated through the web.

“The Internet has become one of the most popular tools used to commit fraud, and criminals are becoming more and more sophisticated with their hacking techniques,” said Jessica McKeirnan, Bank Security manager for Northwest Bank. “As a result, it’s extremely important for consumers to secure their wireless networks and filter the amount of personal information they choose to divulge online.”

Avoiding Online Fraud

McKeirnan recommended the following tips to keep you safe online.

  • Keep your computers and mobile devices up to date. Having the latest security software, web browser and operating system are the best defenses against viruses, malware and other online threats. Turn on automatic updates so you receive the newest fixes as they become available.
  • Create complic@t3d passwords. A strong password is at least eight characters in length and includes a mix of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters.
  • Watch out for phishing scams. Phishing scams use fraudulent emails and websites to trick users into disclosing private account or login information. Do not click on links or open any attachments or pop-up screens from sources you are not familiar with. Forward phishing emails to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at spam@uce.gov — and to the company, bank or organization impersonated in the email.
  • Keep personal information personal. Hackers can use social media profiles to figure out your passwords and answer those security questions in the password reset tools. Lock down your privacy settings and avoid posting things like birthdays, addresses, mother’s maiden name, etc. Be wary of requests to connect from people you do not know.
  • Secure your Internet connection. Always protect your home wireless network with a password. When connecting to public Wi-Fi networks, be cautious about what information you are sending over it.
  • Shop safely. Before shopping online, make sure the website uses secure technology. When you are at the checkout screen, verify that the web address begins with https. Also, check to see if a tiny locked padlock symbol appears on the page.
  • Read the site’s privacy policies. Though long and complex, privacy policies tell you how the site protects the personal information it collects. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.

Protect Your Mobile Device From Hackers

The number of attacks on mobile devices is growing due to the increased popularity of mobile banking. According to a report by the Federal Reserve, 53% of all smartphone users say they have used mobile banking in the past 12 months.

“Smartphones have become increasingly susceptible to online threats,” said McKeirnan. “It is extremely important that any device used to connect to the Internet is properly secured and updated regularly to deter online invasions.”

Northwest recommends that consumers take extra precaution to protect the data on their mobile device by doing the following.

  • 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.
  • Log out completely when you finish a mobile banking session.
  • Protect your phone from viruses and malicious software, or malware, just like you do for your computer by installing mobile security software.
  • Download the updates for your phone and mobile apps.
  • Use caution when downloading apps. Apps can contain malicious software, worms and viruses. Beware of apps that ask for unnecessary “permissions.”
  • Avoid storing sensitive information like passwords or a Social Security number on your mobile device.
  • Tell your financial institution immediately if you change your phone number or lose your mobile device.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Report any suspected fraud to your bank immediately.

This article was provided by Northwest Bank, headquartered in Warren, Pa., with a local branch in Elkridge.