Barely a week goes by without us learning about the latest bank to be hacked. Often, the damage is mitigated by security systems and procedures, but occasionally things are far worse for the customers.
All of this tells us that banks are just as susceptible to online scammers as we are. But how do you know when your bank account has been hacked?
Whether the fraud has taken place because of poor practices by you, or because your bank isn’t as secure as it should be, here are three tell-tale signs to look out for. But first…
How Bad Is It?
Banks around the planet are hacked daily. At the time of writing, the U.K.’s Tesco Bank — operated by the Tesco supermarket chain — has just revealed that a hack has cleared out the bank accounts of several hundred people. Details are sketchy, indicating that perhaps the bank hadn’t embraced some of the security procedures put in place by other institutions.
In 2015, JP Morgan Chase was the biggest banking name to be targeted, while the FBI reported that 500 million bank accounts and financial records were hacked in the previous 12 months.
Bank accounts have always been attractive to thieves, so we should not be surprised by the figures here. But it’s worth considering one thing: networks and security are only the virtual bricks, padlocks, and vaults that secure our money. It’s all about the numbers, and numbers can be manipulated.
So, what should you look for if you think your bank account has been hacked?
1. Small, Unexplained Payments
Online banking thieves don’t want to alert you or the bank to unusual activity. If this happens, they’ve wasted their time. So, they start off by making a small, innocuous online purchases, perhaps for just a few dollars. This is also a tactic used with credit card fraud.
This shows the hacker that your account is working and has credit.
If you spot small, unusual payments from your bank account, alert your bank immediately. You should also set up SMS alerts to ensure that you get regular text statements and transaction notifications. Most banks offer these — if they don’t, change banks.
2. Large Transactions and an Empty Account
The next step for these digital thieves is to move your money, either to a bank account (which would be simple to trace) or by making a larger purchase. However, this may not happen straightaway. It depends on how confident the thief is about your ability — and your bank’s ability — to spot suspicious behavior.
If you didn’t spot the small amount of money vanishing from your bank account, you’ll almost certainly have noticed this.
3. Your Account Is Closed
It’s unlikely that you’ll experience this, but it has happened. People find out months down the line that their bank accounts — typically savings accounts rather than current/day-to-day accounts — have been emptied.
When these victims find out, it’s often with a letter from the bank, who announce “we’re closing your account” because it has been empty for some time.
You do not want to find out too late that your money has been stolen. Regularly checking your accounts online, or simply reading your statements (rather than filing/binning them) will stop this from happening.
Your Money Is Gone: What Does the Bank Do?
Whether you’ve lost a few dollars or your entire balance, your bank must act. If one account has been compromised, others may also be at risk (if they’re not already empty). It’s in the bank’s best interest to help you, both legally, and as a piece of public relations to retain your custom.
In the U.S., federal regulations mean that banks must protect accounts to some degree. If your bank has federal deposit insurance (you can check online) then they will stump up to $250,000 of money stolen from your account.
5 Steps to Make Banking More Secure
As impressive as this amount is, your bank might contest whether they should replace stolen funds. In short, they’re blaming you. For this reason, you need to begin using online (and offline) banking in a more secure way.
- Keep your ATM card secure. This isn’t just about keeping your card in your pocket. Keep it in a secure, RFID-proof case. These Altoids tin-sized cases restrict RFID signals, meaning that your ATM card cannot be cloned remotely.
- Avoid accessing your online bank account via public Wi-Fi. Always use your mobile internet connection, or for locations where this isn’t possible, employ a VPN service. A virtual private network will create an encrypted route for your data — see our list of top VPNs for more details.
- Don’t click on links in unexpected SMS or email messages claiming to be from your bank. Spoof websites are used in the process known as “phishing”, whereby victims are conned into giving up their personal details. If you receive an email, delete it, then open a fresh browser window and sign into your online bank account. Legitimate messages will be found here.
- Use a stronger password or employ two-factor authentication (2FA). Preferably, you should use both. Most banks now insist on 2FA for online banking.
- Keep your desktop and mobile operating systems up-to-date. The same also applies to web browsers. Additionally, avoid installing apps from third party sources.
Beat Fraud and Keep Your Accounts Safe
Defeating online fraud is largely about awareness. If you don’t know what is going on with your bank account, there is a risk that someone will empty it. While banks have strong systems in place to prevent fraud and theft, we constantly shown that these systems fail.
So, regularly check your bank account, and access it securely. Look after your ATM card, be aware of ATM card skimmers that clone your card data, and don’t use public wireless networks to access your bank (or do any online shopping).
Have you been a victim of bank account fraud? Did the bank reimburse your losses? Tell us about it in the comments.
Image Credits: Marcos Mesa Sam Wordley/Shutterstock