As use of the Internet continues to expand, more banks and thrifts are using the Web to offer products and services and communicate with consumers.
The Internet offers the potential for safe, convenient new ways to shop for financial services and conduct banking business at any time. However, safe banking online involves making good choices – decisions that will help you avoid costly surprises or even scams.
Confirm That an Online Bank Is Legitimate
Whether you are selecting a traditional bank or an online bank that has no physical offices, it’s wise to make sure that it is legitimate and that your deposits are federally insured. Here are tips specifically designed for consumers considering banking over the Internet.
- Read key information about the bank posted on its website
Most bank Web sites have an "About Us" section or something similar that describes the institution. You may find a brief history of the bank, the official name and address of the bank’s headquarters, and information about its insurance coverage from the FDIC.
- Protect yourself from fraudulent websites
For example, watch out for copycat websites that deliberately use a name or web address very similar to, but not the same as, that of a real financial institution. The intent is to lure you into clicking onto their website and giving your personal information, such as your account number and password. Always check to see that you have typed the correct website address for your bank before conducting a transaction.
- Verify the bank’s insurance status
To verify a bank’s insurance status, look for the familiar FDIC logo or the words "Member FDIC" or "FDIC Insured" on the website.
Also, you should check the FDIC’s online database of FDIC-insured institutions. You can search for an institution by going to Bank Find (formerly “Is My Bank Insured?”). Search by name, city, state or zip code of the bank, and click the "Find" button. A positive match will display the official name of the bank, the date it became insured, its insurance certificate number, the main office location for the bank (and branches), its primary government regulator, and other links to detailed information about the bank. If your bank does not appear on this list, contact the FDIC.
Some bank websites provide links directly to the FDIC’s website to assist you in identifying or verifying the FDIC insurance protection of their deposits.
Also remember that not all banks operating on the Internet are insured by the FDIC. Many banks that are not FDIC-insured are chartered overseas. If you choose to use a bank chartered overseas, it is important for you to know that the FDIC may not insure your deposits. Check with your bank or the FDIC if you are not certain.
For insurance purposes, be aware that a bank may use different names for its online and traditional services; this does not mean you are dealing with separate banks.
This means, for example, that to determine your maximum FDIC insurance coverage, your deposits at the parent bank will be added together with those at the separately named bank Web site and will be insured for up to the maximum amount covered for one bank. Talk to your banker if you have questions.
Know where to get more information about FDIC insurance
Don't worry about your deposit insurance coverage if you or your family have less than $250,000 in all your accounts combined at the same FDIC-insured bank. But if your accounts total $250,000 or more, find out if they're within the insurance limit. Contact your bank for more information.
The FDIC’s Web site also has an interactive service called EDIE (Electronic Deposit Insurance Estimator) that can help you determine the amount of your insurance coverage. Or, you can read the online deposit insurance brochure "Your Insured Deposits."
It’s important to note that only deposits offered by FDIC-insured institutions are protected by the FDIC. Nondeposit investment and insurance products, such as mutual funds, stocks, annuities and life insurance policies that may be sold through Web sites or at the bank itself, are not FDIC-insured, are not guaranteed by the bank, and may lose value.
Protect Your Privacy
Some consumers may want to know how their personal information is used by their bank and whether it is shared with affiliates of the bank or other parties.
Banks may want to share information about you to help market products specific to your needs and interests. If you do not wish to participate in information sharing, however, you have the right to prevent your bank from sharing your private personal information with parties not affiliated with the bank, except in certain limited circumstances. As of July 2001, your bank should provide a clear method for you to "opt out" of this type of information sharing.
You may have heard that some companies track your Web browsing habits while at their site, to understand your interests and then to market particular services or promotions. You may want to ask whether your bank tracks your browsing habits if these practices concern you. Also, your Web browser may enable you to block the ability of outside companies to track your browsing habits.
Your bank and your Internet service provider may have more information about how to protect your privacy online.
Help keep your transaction secure
The Internet is a public network. Therefore, it is important to learn how to safeguard your banking information, credit card numbers, Social Security Number and other personal data.
Look at your bank’s website for information about its security practices, or contact the bank directly.
Also learn about and take advantage of security features. Some examples are:
- Encryption is the process of scrambling private information to prevent unauthorized access. To show that your transmission is encrypted, some browsers display a small icon on your screen that looks like a "lock" or a "key" whenever you conduct secure transactions online. Avoid sending sensitive information, such as account numbers, through unsecured e-mail.
- Passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs) should be used when accessing an account online. Your password should be unique to you and you should change it regularly. Do not use birthdates or other numbers or words that may be easy for others to guess. Always carefully control to whom you give your password. For example, if you use a financial company that requires your passwords in order to gather your financial data from various sources, make sure you learn about the company’s privacy and security practices.
- General security over your personal computer such as virus protection and physical access controls should be used and updated regularly. Contact your hardware and software suppliers or Internet service provider to ensure you have the latest in security updates.
If you have a security concern about your online accounts, contact your bank to discuss possible problems and remedies.
Remember that nonfinancial websites that are linked to your bank’s site are not FDIC-insured.
As an added convenience to their customers, some banks offer online links to merchants, retail stores, travel agents and other nonfinancial sites. An outside company’s products and services are not insured by the FDIC, and your bank may not guarantee the products and services.
As in everyday business, before you order a product or service online, make sure you are comfortable with the reputation of the company making the offer. Only then should you give out your credit card or debit card number. And never give the number unless you initiated the transaction.