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6 Ways To Protect Your Financial Information Online

One of the big questions that comes into our website on a daily basis is about the issue of how to protect credit card numbers and other financial information when conducting online transactions. It seems that people are in one of two camps. Either they have very little or no concern about protecting their financial information, or they seem to operate with an irrational paranoia and refuse to do any transactions over the Internet. I do think there is reason to be concerned about protecting our financial information while engaging in Internet-based transactions. I also believe, however, that it is possible to protect your financial information and still enjoy the convenience of doing business online. In today's article, I will discuss some simple tips and strategies that you can use right away to make your online transactions more "secure."

1. Use PayPal

I love using PayPal since it allows me to make online purchases without disclosing my credit card number to any third parties. PayPal has been around for number of years and is now owned by eBay. Although it is very popular for people to use when paying for items purchased through eBay, it has become a widely used alternative to giving out one’s credit card number online.  PayPal works as sort of a middleman.  You provide them with your banking and credit card information and then authorize them to pay a third party on your behalf.  This way your credit information is never revealed.

One of the drawbacks of PayPal is that not every vendor works with them. PayPal has come out with an ingenious solution to this problem known as a "one-time use credit card number." After you open up a free PayPal account www.paypal.com, you can install the PayPal toolbar in your browser. This allows you to have PayPal automatically fill-in all of your personal information when you are making a credit card purchase and allows for the creation a secure credit card number. I almost could not believe that this technology was available when I started to use it about a week ago. How it works, is that each time I make a purchase I can choose to create a credit card number that will only be good for that one single transaction. PayPal automatically creates the number and inserts it in the correct box in the online form; nothing could be easier.  For those concerned about giving out your credit card number online, this latest innovation by PayPal is fantastic.

2.  Be Savvy About Choosing Passwords

If you are like me, you probably have dozens of passwords that you have to remember. As a result, we are all inclined to create easy to remember passwords and pins. The problem is that passwords that are easy for us to remember, can also be easy for other people to guess. For example, one common mistake is for people to base a four digit pin code on their own birth date.  As a result, if someone learns what your birthday is they may be able to clean out your bank account.  One simple tip that can help you to make your passwords much more secure is to include at least one capital letter. Most password-protected sites are case sensitive. This means that they can recognize uppercase and lowercase letters. It is very difficult for someone to guess your password when you have randomly included one or two capitalized letters. This one simple change in how you structure your passwords can make it statistically thousands of times more difficult for a hacker to guess your password. Of course, staying away from the obvious such as your birth date, names of your children, or probably the most absurd; using the word password are the most important elements of choosing passwords. So, using just a little bit of common sense and an occasional capital letter will dramatically lower the odds of someone being able to guess your password or pin.

3.  Don’t Expose Your Financial Information On Public WiFi Networks

I love to grab my laptop and run down to a local coffee shop or bookstore and get some work done. It is nice sometimes to just have a change of scenery. Americans have grown to love having access to WiFi (especially at airports). While it may be okay to check e-mail, browse the Internet, do some social networking, or send some messages over twitter, this is not a good venue to check your bank balance or log in to your credit card account. One of the most common ways that people are stealing credit card numbers and passwords to bank accounts is at locations that offer public WiFi. It may be a bit more inconvenient to use your cell phone to call your bank or credit card company, but that is your best move unless you are using a computer at a secure location. It was reported last year that more than 50,000 credit card numbers were stolen by an individual that simply parked his car in the parking lot of a major credit card processor and accessed their unsecured WiFi network with his laptop computer! After reading this story, I found it hard to believe that hacking into a network with more than 50,000 credit card numbers could be this easy. Until you have become a victim of online theft, an article like this may seem a little paranoid. All it takes is for you to let your guard down one time, however, and you may be out thousands of dollars and have to spend years repairing the damage done to your credit and your financial relationships.

4.  Make Sure Your Home Network Is Secure

I can turn my laptop on at my house and see about six WiFi networks that my neighbors have running. Most of them are not secured. This means that someone with a little bit of computer knowledge can tap into everything they are doing online and literally record every keystroke they make. This includes the ability to steal their credit card numbers and bank log in information. When you decide to set up a wireless network at your home or office, be sure to take the extra time to password protect your network if you plan to conduct any financial transactions from that location. This simple step of securing your network and setting up a password will take no more than a few minutes and will protect you for years into the future.

5.  Be On Guard For Pharming

Perhaps the most dangerous scam that is growing on the Internet is pharming.  If someone is able to penetrate your WiFi network they can install a computer program that will reroute you to phony websites that look exactly the same as the site that you actually intended to visit. As a result, you would likely not even detect that you are fake pharming site. Once you type in your user name and password, you have given a criminal all they need to clean out your account. The only way to be 100% sure that you are not a fake website, is to look for an SSL certificate.  If the site is secure, there will be a small graphic that looks like a padlock at the end of the address bar. If you click on that graphic it will verify the legitimacy of that site. 

6.  Watch Out For Phishing

What is Phishing?  When criminals send out e mails purporting to be from a bank or other trusted company that you regularly deal with.  First, banks will never send out an e mail asking for your password.  A typical phishing e mail will usually include an urgent message informing you of a problem with your bank or credit card account.  The e mail provides a link for you to click on to log in.  What actually happens is that this takes you to a phony website that looks exactly like that of your bank or financial institution.  This is how the criminal ends up stealing your username and password.  What to do? Simply delete the e mail and open your web browser and navigate directly to your bank’s website and log in as normal.  You can then check out the status of your account without exposing your log in information via a suspicious e mail.  Remember, you can always stop phishing by simply never clicking on an e mail to log in to a financial account.

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
Editor-In-Chief ChristianMoney.com 
Follow Me on Twitter Twitter.com/jameslparis
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