Money & Policy

How Safe Are U.S. Savings Bonds Bought Electronically?

PBS NewsHour business and economics correspondent Paul Solman looks at the latest I Bonds, available only online

PBS NewsHour business and economics correspondent Paul Solman is now answering questions from Next Avenue visitors about personal finances, business and the economy. His advice will appear on Next Avenue as well as Solman’s PBSNewsHour blog, Making Sen$e With Paul Solman, and the Rundown, NewsHour’s blog of news and insight. PBS NewsHour is an hour-long television program and accompanying website with the mission of providing intelligent, balanced and in-depth reporting and analysis of the day’s most important domestic and international issues and news.

Do you have a question for Paul Solman? Email it to us and we’ll pass it along.

I bought I Bonds (U.S. savings bonds with inflation protection) through payroll deductions until the government stopped issuing paper certificates and changed to a digital system. It was difficult (for me) to understand the password rules to protect my investment data. I agree they’re a good product, but I guess I want some of my financial assets in a more tangible form. So my question: Do you really think financial records are safe in cyberspace? I, for one, don’t.  — Dave Rask

Fascinating question, Dave. I myself have I Bonds in the old certificate form, and I share your anxiety about the digital variety. But then I think: All my retirement assets are 100 percent digital. My bank accounts too. So what’s the difference?

I have for years repeated this on Making Sen$e, so I might as well debut it for Next Avenue readers: “Credit” comes from the Latin verb “credere” — “to believe.” The implication is that any asset has value only to the extent that we collectively believe it to.

(MORE: How to Bank Safely Online)

There’s plenty of reason to be nervous about cybercrime, as Singularity University’s Marc Goodman made clear on the PBS NewsHour site some months ago. And he never even raised the specter of an EMP event — an electromagnetic pulse like the one Don Cheadle used to knock out power in Vegas in the remake of Ocean’s Eleven.

But I think we’re all so immersed in the online world that there’s no need to refrain from investing in U.S. government I Bonds just because a physical incarnation is no longer available.

Want a paper record? Print out the Treasury.gov screen on which the transaction in recorded.

As to the formula for getting to those screens, yes, it’s astonishingly complex. But then, if it weren’t, it would be easier to hack, right?

Paul Solman is a member of the Twitterati and can be followed at [email protected]. His daily blog can be followed, well, daily at Making Sen$e by linking here or just Googling the words: “Making Sense.”

Paul Solman
By Paul Solman
Paul Solman is the business and economics correspondent for PBS NewsHour.  He has taught at Harvard Business School and his alma mater, Brandeis University, and now teaches at Yale and Gateway Community College. His reporting has won multiple Peabody and Emmy awards. He is co-author of Social Security, Get What's Yours: The Revised Secrets to Maxing Out Your Social Security.@paulsolman

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