When it comes to protecting your money, we’re typically talking about protecting it from criminals, like identity thieves who steal your information to gain access to your bank account or other financial accounts.
But in the wake of a huge scandal involving Wells Fargo employees opening 2 million bank and credit card accounts without customers’ authorization, a lot of consumers are wondering what precautions they should be taking to protect themselves from their own bank!
Wells Fargo was hit with a $185 million fine, after the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau discovered that the company’s staff members had not only opened millions of new accounts, but they also transferred money from customers’ other accounts without authorization. Even debit cards were issued and activated — and PINs created — without customers knowing anything about it.
How to protect your money (even from your own bank)
The reality is, sneaky people are everywhere, and unfortunately, everywhere includes banks. That means keeping tabs on every aspect of your financial life is crucial to protecting your accounts and everything in them.
You can never be too careful when it comes to your money and your livelihood!
So here are some tips to help you protect your money — from people inside, and outside, the bank.
1. Check your accounts DAILY
It may seem kind of extreme, but it’s not — especially when it comes to fraud associated with a debit card and/or checking account.
Of course it’s not good if you experience issues with your credit card, but with a credit card account, it’s not technically your money. But with a debit card, checking account, savings account or other financial account that holds your personal cash and savings, then you want to take every precaution possible to protect that money! Because if that cash is wiped out, it could be gone forever.
It sounds kind of scary, but taking steps to protect yourself is that important.
Monitoring your accounts on a daily basis will not only allow you to always have a good idea of what’s going on with your money, but it will also help you spot any potential fraudulent activity immediately.
And if you do ever see something that looks suspicious, contact the bank immediately and find out what steps you need to take to repair the damage.
2. Know your protections
Debit and credit cards come with very different protections under the law for you as a consumer. Here’s what you should know:
Credit card fraud:
- If your credit card number is stolen, not the physical card, “you are not responsible for unauthorized charges under federal law,” according to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
- If the actual card is stolen, you are liable for no more than $50 in authorized charges — as long as you report it to your card issuer. Some issuers won’t even charge you the $50.
Debit card fraud
- If you report the card as lost or stolen within two business days, you won’t be responsible for more than $50 of unauthorized transactions.
- According to the CFPB, “if an unauthorized transaction appears on your statement (but your card or PIN has not been lost or stolen), under federal law you will not be liable for the debit if you report it within 60 days after your account statement is sent to you.”
- If someone uses your physical ATM or debit card without your permission (meaning it was stolen) and you report the fraudulent charges within 60 days after your statement is mailed to you, you could lose as much as, but no more than, $500.
- If someone uses your ATM or debit card without your permission and you don’t report it within 60 days after your statement is mailed to you, the potential damage is unlimited. You could lose all the money in that account, the unused portion of your maximum line of credit established for overdrafts, and even more.
3. Turn paper statements on
If you’re used to doing everything electronically, the idea of paper statements may seem outdated and a little bit of a pain. — but if you want to protect your money, it’s worth turning paper statements back on!
Here’s why: what happens to all of your confirmations, records and statements if someone you thought you could trust somehow causes them to disappear? Or what if any of the electronic services you use get hacked or wiped out?
Paper statements make it a lot easier to keep track of your financial life, and if you’re ever in a situation when you need proof of something, you’ll have a hard copy to back you up!
4. Choose a bank with good customer service
When you’re working with a big bank, it can sometimes be tough to get the personal service and attention you may need or want.
Consider taking your business to a credit union or a local bank that has a good reputation. You’ll typically find that you get a better and more personalized customer service experience, which can make handling your financial life a lot less stressful.
You also want to make sure you’re banking with a company that you feel comfortable with, which is different for everyone. So do a little research into some local banks regarding their customer service and other things like how they respond to and handle any issues etc.
5. Never share your banking information with anyone
In order to protect your financial life, you never want to share any of your sensitive information via text, email, phone, social media or any other messaging app.
If you call the bank directly, that’s fine (well, usually).
But if you ever receive a request to share your information, do not respond or provide any piece of information about yourself.
Thieves are looking to collect any bit of information on you that they can, so eventually they will be able to put the pieces together and gain access to your accounts. So never respond to any correspondence that did not originate from you!
Keep in mind that scammers have found ways to make emails, texts and other messages look exactly like the real ones you get from your bank or other company — even using the exact logos and language you’re used to seeing. So if you get a request or update that your information is needed for something, call the bank or whatever company that sent the request directly.
Bottom line: do not respond to any unexpected request for your information. Contact the company directly to verify the request.
6. Use strong passwords & two-factor authentication
Any time you log in to any online account, whether it’s Amazon, your bank account or some other shopping site, criminals could be watching without you even realizing it. And any piece of information they can pick up about you could help give them access to what they’re really after — your money.
So it’s important to text extra steps to protect your information online, and many sites now offer two-factor authentication to help make it more difficult for scammers to get in.
Two-factor authentication (sometimes called two-step authentication) requires you to take an extra step to authenticate who you are when you sign in or when you are doing a transaction. It’s sometimes also referred to as two-step authentication.
The extra step just depends on the company or website, so it could be a unique code that’s texted your cell phone or unique password you have to give when authorizing anything over the phone.
Whatever the extra step is, opt in for it! It’s another layer off security for you and your money!
7. Don’t access financial accounts from just anywhere
You should never log in to your bank account — or any other account that contains your bank or card information — from an unsecured device or unprotected Wi-Fi network.
Ideally, you should have a separate computer at home that you use for your banking and other financial activities.
If you unknowingly click on an email attachment or link that contains a virus, that virus can scan everything in your computer and send it all back to criminals without you even realizing it! So having a separate computer that you don’t use for email, Internet searches or anything else besides banking would help you avoid those types of scams.
Here are some other ways to protect yourself when doing online banking:
- Never use public Wi-Fi that isn’t password protected.
- Even if a Wi-Fi network requires a password, it could still be accessed by criminals. So don’t sign in to your accounts unless you can verify with the owner of the network that it’s secure.
- Once you’ve verified the security of a Wi-Fi source, pay attention to websites’ URLS when youre online. If you see “https” or a lock icon, that means the site you’re visiting is more secure and has an encrypted line of communication between your browser and the website.