You check in regularly (maybe too regularly?) on your social media platform of choice. You frequently scroll through your inbox. You stay up to date on the latest news headlines. But how often do you check in on your checking account?
OK, if it’s been a while, totally understandable. Your to-do list is probably keeping you plenty busy. But the Federal Trade Commission received more than 1.1 million reports of consumer fraud in 2017, and the median loss from fraud was $429. That’s a cross-country plane ticket or a move-in fee for a new apartment. Protecting your checking account, A.K.A. the home base for your finances, should be part of your financial routine to help you avoid falling victim to fraud or identity theft.
In order to protect your checking account you should familiarize yourself with the safety features of an online checking account—many of which come without a fee—and take proactive steps to strengthen your account security.
Ready to get started? Improve your checking account security in just four steps:
1. Understand what to look for
Protecting your checking account should start with being aware of what’s going on within your own account. “Monitoring your checking account on a consistent basis can be your first alert to potential identity theft before it has a chance to make a lasting impact on your credit report,” says Bola Sokunbi, certified financial education instructor and CEO and founder of Clever Girl Finance.
Online and mobile banking make it easier than ever to monitor your account activity, which you can do from the comfort of your own home and computer or on your phone if you have a few spare minutes while on-the-go. Take note if there are suspicious transactions that might indicate fraud. For example:
- Is there a purchase from an unknown merchant or location, or a transaction amount you don’t recognize?
- Is your checking account balance much lower than you expected?
- Was a cash withdrawal made from your account that you don’t remember initiating?
If you think you’ve identified fraudulent activity, notify your bank right away.
“Monitoring your checking account on a consistent basis can be your first alert to potential identity theft before it has a chance to make a lasting impact on your credit report.”
2. Monitor your account on a regular basis
If you’ve got how to monitor your checking account down, you’re probably wondering how often you should monitor your checking account. You may want to log in to your account as often as a few times per week, or even once a day. That way, “you can catch the situation early and alert your bank immediately” if you’re concerned about any of the activity, Sokunbi says.
Another good reason why you should monitor your checking account regularly: Depending on your bank, waiting too long in between account check-ins could cost you financially.
“Your personal liability for fraudulent use of your debit card is tied to the time in which you report the problem,” says Steve Weisman, an attorney, college professor and cybersecurity expert who runs Scamicide, a blog about scams and cybercrime trends. “Failing to monitor your account could, in a worst-case scenario, cause you to lose your entire bank account without legal recourse.”
3. Learn the most important safety features of an online checking account
Fortunately, when it comes to monitoring your checking account, you’re not alone. Your bank is there to help you protect your checking account with various built-in checking account security features. Bonus: Many of these checking account security features don’t include a fee.
“Banks offer monitoring tools, but you might have to sign up for them,” Sokunbi says. “Their tools can alert you based on your spending patterns or you can set customized alerts if you spend or withdraw more than a certain amount of money.”
With a Discover checking account, for example, you can set up email and text alerts. If you know you rarely spend that much at one time, setting up an alert for every transaction over $100 is a great way to keep tabs on your account security. (It could even be a way to use your checking account as a budgeting tool.)
Discover also offers a variety of other checking account security features that automatically come with your account. Your account is proactively monitored for potential fraud, for example, and you will be alerted if anything unusual is spotted. You also have $0 liability protection so you’re not responsible for unauthorized debit card, online or mobile banking transactions. You can even temporarily freeze your debit card if you ever misplace it and want to make sure your account is safe and sound.
4. Choose your password wisely, and be creative with security questions
You can be in control of some safety features of an online checking account, especially when it comes to your password and security questions. When setting your account password, try to avoid words or phrases that would be easy for scammers to guess, like your name or hometown. Using the same password for multiple accounts—your checking account, social media and email accounts—could also make you more vulnerable to fraudsters. Learning one of your passwords, even a “strong” one, could mean learning them all.
The security questions on your account—the questions you select and answer in case additional verification beyond your password is needed—are also crucial to your checking account security. Be mindful of the security questions you select and how you answer them. Fraudsters could use public information about you, from family histories to your social media profiles, to attempt to compromise your account.
“It is often a simple matter for a determined identity thief to research the answer to your security question and be in a position to change your password,” Weisman says. “For instance, it is not difficult to find out what your mother’s maiden name is.”
Instead, Weisman recommends being creative—even humorous—with the answers to your security questions. “For example, you could provide ‘fire truck’ as your mother’s maiden name,” Weisman says. “It is so silly you will remember it, and no identity thief will ever guess it.”
The Federal Trade Commission received more than 1.1 million reports of consumer fraud in 2017, and the median loss from fraud was $429.
Start today with simple steps to protect your checking account
Protecting your checking account doesn’t require a huge time investment. Steps like brushing up on your account’s security features and creating a strong password could be knocked out today, and regularly monitoring your checking account becomes easy once it’s part of your financial routine. Give yourself the gift of peace of mind, and start safeguarding your checking account today.