Online Bill Pay vs Regular Mail
Worries about online security may have you wondering if it’s better to pay bills the old-fashioned way, writing and mailing checks and receiving paper statements. But financial fraud isn’t always a high-tech crime. In fact, checks, credit cards and account statements stolen from mailboxes present a considerable threat to your personal information and your money. Whether you’re paying by mail, computer, or smartphone, keeping a vigilant eye on transactions helps you outmaneuver hackers, scammers and crooks.
Benefits of Managing Payment Accounts Online
Paying bills online offers more benefits than saving the cost of a stamp or eliminating the paper trail. It also allows for constant and convenient monitoring. Usually, several weeks pass between paper statements. However, account transactions show up online right away, allowing you to detect and quickly react to suspicious activity. Tracking and e-mail notifications advise when bill payment is received and credited, so you don’t have to worry about your check being late or lost in the mail. For extra security, log into your bank accounts at least twice weekly and also check your credit report regularly to make sure credit card companies are accurately reporting your activity.
Keep Your Online Accounts Secure
Just as you would never ask a stranger to mail your bills, you should never log into a public computer or use unsecured Wi-Fi to pay bills online. Choose strong passwords for each site and change them every 90 days. Considering using password-protected computer software that has a reliable firewall and appropriate virus software.
Consider the Source
Beware of “scareware” popups or e-mails using dire warnings such as “Your account has been blocked.” Your computer toolbar shows the origin of the site. Some computers warn you with a screen notification if a site isn’t trusted or if your personal information might be over-exposed. Never open attachments you aren’t expecting, or messages with no subject line. Fake websites that mimic your bank, the IRS, a utility or other companies or agencies aren’t uncommon. Don’t be fooled. Ignore messages that demand your PIN, Social Security or account numbers. Your bank already has those. When in doubt, log into the company or financial institution’s account directly via the publicly-recognized URL.
The increase in cell-phone banking hasn’t been overlooked by con artists using fake text messages or other scams. If you don’t recognize the number don’t respond. Don’t conduct bill-paying or other online financial transactions in situations where the screen is visible to others. Keep your phone with you or in a secure place at all times.
When using regular mail, place outgoing bills in official U.S. Postal Service drop boxes or other depositories with no public access once the envelope is inserted. Know what time incoming mail arrives and retrieve it promptly. A locked box is a must in apartment buildings or other multi-unit dwellings and offers the best protection in any scenario, from rural to urban.
Leave No Trace
Nothing is beneath financial thieves, including going through garbage cans or recycling bins. Cut up billing statements, credit card offers, shipping labels and anything else with your name and address on it. Invest in an inexpensive shredder to obliterate excess paperwork that contains confidential information.
Follow Your Gut
If you suspect that you may be a victim of identity theft, check your credit, investigate unknown accounts, and follow up until you’re confident that you’re in control of your financial identity.
About the Author
Cyndi Perkins is an award-winning newspaper editor, columnist and reporter. Beginning her career in the 1980s, she has covered business, gardening, health, fitness, travel and parenting for international, national and regional publications.