The digital age has brought enormous benefits and greater convenience to so many aspects of our lives. Whether you want to order a takeaway from the local Indian restaurant, watch your favourite TV show, choose a new car or renew your home insurance, all you have to do is go online, and it can all be done without you having to leave the sofa.
Of course, most of these things cost money, but the internet also has the answer to that. Most of us have our card details at the ready and can pay up at the click of a mouse. We can even deal with our broader financial issues from home, whether it is checking our bank statements, transferring funds between accounts or setting up direct debits.
In fact, many people feel that the rise of online banking is one of the handiest things that the internet age has brought us. Let’s face it, queueing up in the bank is a nuisance, and this assumes that you make it there when they are open. Telephone banking is not much better, often requiring patience as you wait for several minutes in a queueing system, are put through an exhausting sequence of security questions, and then try to make yourself understood by someone in a call centre on the other side of the planet.
The fact is that there is less and less need for face-to-face interaction in order to manage our finances. However, there are downsides to online banking, and one of the most high-profile examples is the increased threat of fraud. Here, we take a look at how best to protect yourself, and what to do if you suspect that you might be a victim.
According to recent reports, identity theft has reached epidemic levels in the UK, particularly among those in their 20s and 30s. This is, in itself, a point of interest, as there is a common perception that the most at risk are vulnerable elderly citizens who are less IT literate and are duped into volunteering information.
The truth is quite the opposite. The over-60s represent the only age group in which cases of identity theft have actually fallen over the past year, demonstrating that perhaps this demographic is a little more switched on than some people think.
Part of the reason is undoubtedly that the elderly are less likely to share personal information via social media. Many members of the Facebook generation have a problem filtering what should and should not be shared. You would be amazed at how full a picture of your life can be pieced together by a complete stranger. Quite enough to learn random insignificant details such as your mother’s maiden name, or your first school, or your best friend as a child. Very useful when the moment comes to hack your account.
Will we ever learn?
The frustrating thing is that most of us already know exactly how to go about avoiding problems. Yet we are sloppy with the security settings on social media, we use the same passwords for years on end for just about everything, and we log on to our online banking via public Wi-Fi systems in cafés, airports and shopping centres, even though we have been told countless times thatthis is a bad idea.
Tell the bank
If you become one of the millions affected by fraudulent activity on your account, what should you do? There are two distinct courses of action that you need to consider. The first is to take action against the immediate problem and stop it before it can escalate, and the second is to improve your security habits to guard against it happening again.
The top priority isto speak to your bank and secure the account that has been compromised. They will immediately stop your cards and implement other safeguards to ringfence your account and ensure that nothing further can go missing.
Next, you need to identify the fraudulent transactions. Your bank is legally obliged to refund any money that has been fraudulently taken from your account, the only exceptions being if you yourself acted fraudulently, you were grossly negligent, or the disputed transaction was legitimately authorised. The bank must also reimburse any fees or charges stemming from the unauthorised transactions.
To do all this, the bank needs to have the facts as quickly as possible, so it is essential that you call their fraud line the moment that you suspect something is amiss.
What if the bank is at fault?
This sounds all well and good, but what if the bank itself is guilty of taking your money? This might sound farfetched, but unless you have spent the past few years living on the moon, you will have heard of the PPI scandal, in which numerous high street banks miss-sold payment protection insurance and other products to customers.
You might think that the issue has now been resolved, but the fact is that there are still thousands of consumers discovering that they have been defrauded in this way. If you think that you might be among them and wish to make a Lloyds or HSBC PPI claim, there are specialist companies that are independent of the banks and can help you set the wheels in motion.
Preventing a recurrence
The sad truth is that it is easiest to learn the hard way. Those of us who have been a victim of fraud are far more likely to take the warnings seriously and protect ourselves properly in the future. The advice is simple, and the tragedy is that most of us already know it.
Keep your details secure, never divulge your PIN or password to anyone (even banking staff), and treat any strange telephone calls or emails with extreme suspicion. Remember to shred any paperwork that contains personal details, and keep a regular eye on your bank statements and your credit score.
Follow these simple steps and you are far less likely to become a victim – so why not buck the trend and be wise before the event?