9 Tips, Tricks and Tools for Safer Online Banking

For consumers who are new to online banking, security concerns are not especially uncommon. But there is good news for apprehensive account holders with questions such as “How secure is online banking?” and “How do banks address cyber security?” — the digital and physical protections that financial institutions put in place to protect customers’ sensitive data are extensive.

Just a few of the cutting-edge technologies that most banks employ to protect online accounts include:

  • Highly advanced anti-virus and malware protection
  • Firewalls that block unauthorized online traffic
  • Secure Socket Layer (SSL) encryption to keep internet browsers’ connections secure
  • Cookies that are used to identify familiar/trusted computers when they log in to online accounts
  • Multi-factor authentication that employs two or three different unique identifiers — such as passwords, PINs, security questions, and randomized security codes that are texted or emailed to registered recipients — to help ensure that only authorized users are able to access online accounts
  • Continuous account monitoring to help identify suspicious charges and prevent them from going through

Further, when customers bank with any institution that is a member of the FDIC (Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation), each of their personal accounts is insured for up to $250,000 — and the coverage is backed by the U.S. federal government.

 

9 ways to further boost your cybersecurity

Beyond the numerous protections listed above, consumers with online accounts can take some additional steps of their own to elevate the security of their online-banking assets. Consider these nine ways to protect your financial information when banking online:

  1. Keep devices and software up to date: Because software developers are constantly updating their offerings to protect against the latest security threats, it’s important to ensure that your devices’ security software, browsers and operating systems are running the most recent releases. Consider enabling automatic updates so that your devices get the most up-to-date protections as they become available.
  2. Use strong passwords: A super-simple password like “password” may be easy to remember, but it’s also easy for hackers and other cybercriminals to crack. Choose a password that:
    – is at least eight characters in length and incorporates more than one word
    – employs a mix of lowercase and uppercase letters
    – includes special characters/symbols such as !, $ and ~
    Further, avoid using the same password across different accounts, and change your passwords regularly. Some savvy consumers choose to use a password manager that remembers their passwords for them and facilitates the use of longer, stronger passwords.
  1. Be wary of phishing attempts: Phishing and smishing scams — which employ fake emails and texts often designed to look like they’re from legitimate organizations and institutions — are frequently used by cybercriminals in an effort to glean consumers’ personal and financial information. To help keep your personal information safe, learn to recognize the red flags of phishing and smishing, and always be on the lookout for them.
  2. Don’t share too much personal information publicly: When consumers put a lot of personal information out in the public domain, such as in posts on social media networks, hackers can use these details to make best guesses at their passwords, security questions, etc. To help limit the availability of this information to potential bad actors, users can adjust their privacy settings such that only trusted friends and followers can see certain (or any) posts. Further, it’s always a good idea to be skeptical of friend/follower requests from people you don’t know.
  3. Protect your connection: At home, consumers should always protect their Wi-Fi networks with a strong password to prevent unwanted/unauthorized access. And when using public Wi-Fi networks — especially for online-banking purposes — security experts advise that added precautions be taken to prevent unwanted monitoring or access via malicious hotspots, malware, spyware, man-in-the-middle attacks, etc. Taking steps such as disabling public file sharing, using a virtual private network (VPN), and turning off your device’s Wi-Fi and opting for your cellular connection instead can help limit risks.
  4. Confirm site security when shopping: Especially when providing financial details such as credit card numbers online, consumers should verify that the website they are using is employing an HTTPS (hypertext transfer protocol secure) connection. These connections add an extra layer of security by encrypting any data that is being sent or received. To confirm that this type of connection is being used, consumers can look for the “https” at the beginning of the web address they’re visiting, or they can look for a lock symbol in or around their internet browser’s address bar.
  5. Guard your cards: Consumers should be very careful about providing their debit card or credit card numbers to anyone over the phone, being sure to confirm that anyone who receives this information represents a reputable company/organization and is actually who they say they are. A good practice here is to refrain from giving these details to anyone who calls requesting them, instead opting to call an official phone number for the company/organization to provide payment details. Further, consumers should never share their debit card’s PIN number with anyone.
  6. Enable multi-factor authentication: By adding an extra layer of protection, multi-factor authentication makes it much harder for cybercriminals to use stolen and/or guessed usernames and/or passwords to log in to consumers’ banking and other personal accounts. It accomplishes this by employing such tactics as asking security questions before access is allowed, or sending a required and random access code to users’ email addresses or phones before they can log in. For users whose financial institution offers this option, signing up for multi-factor authentication can significantly ramp up their security protections.
  7. Set up account alerts: To keep customers well informed and up to date regarding the status and use of their accounts, many banks will deliver banking and/or fraud alerts that inform users when specific activities related to their account are detected. These can be delivered via text, email or push notifications from a banking app, and they can alert consumers to various activities (typically specified by the user during setup) such as failed login attempts, password updates, credit and debit card transactions, wire transfers, and the addition of new payees to an account’s online bill pay functionality. By setting up these alerts, consumers can greatly increase their account awareness and better monitor their accounts for fraud — in real time.

Proudly serving South Carolina since 1933, Arthur State Bank offers accounts and services to meet a variety of financial needs. To help you achieve all your financial goals, the bank offers in-person service as well as a range of convenient digital solutions. To learn how Arthur State Bank can help you with banking needs ranging from checking and savings to retirement accounts, mortgages, other personal loans and more, visit arthurstatebank.com.

Man doing his banking online

AnnualCreditReport.com is the only source for free credit reports authorized by the federal government. Every 12 months, you can get a free copy of your credit report from each agency.

Your credit report has your credit history for all of your credit accounts as well as any credit inquiries and public record court information such as collections. In addition, the report provides personally identifiable information such as your name, address, and employment.

Be sure to carefully review all three reports to identify any problem areas that you may need to clean up prior to applying for a mortgage. If there is any incorrect information, follow the reporting agency’s rules to correct it or add a notation to the report to explain the situation.

Your FICO Score is a score combines data from several areas include payment history, the amount owed, length of credit history, new accounts. Many lenders use this score as a guide. This score is not provided as part of the free annual credit report.

Learn more about how your credit score impacts your ability to secure a loan.

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Couple looking over finances

Primary considerations for setting your housing budget require an assessment of your income, debt and current savings for the down payment on the home. The following are generally recommended guidelines; however, you should meet with an Arthur State Bank lender to get personalized mortgage information.

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Couple meeting with lender

The pre-qualification/pre-approval letter is included with any offer you make on a house to inform the seller that you have met with a mortgage lender and you are prepared to make an offer. The letter states that based on certain assumptions, the bank is prepared to lend you up to a specified amount of money for a home mortgage.

When choosing a loan officer, we recommend going local to work with someone who understands your community’s real estate market. This blog on first-time home purchases includes questions to ask your lender that may be helpful when preparing for your meeting.

Helpful Resources:

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Realtor shaking hands with a client

When a house is sold, the seller typically pays real estate commission to both the listing agent and the selling agent. It is extremely beneficial for the buyer to use their own real estate agent. Loan officers can often recommend selling agents in the area; ask your officer about realtor referrals when discussing your loan.

A good realtor will know the local market and can help you find an ideal home based on your budget, location and desired features. During your search, understand that you will most likely need to compromise on some items, so it’s important to identify your critical needs versus your wants.

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Couple searching online for a home

Additionally, when you start with the house search and work backwards, homes can often go off the market while you’re completing steps 1-4. While browsing homes immediately can be tempting, we recommend following these steps in order so that, once you find your dream home, you’ll be well-positioned to take action immediately.

When you find the home you want and you think you are ready to put an offer on it, you will want to make sure you have all the information you need to make a solid offer.

  • Evaluate the neighborhood.
  • Drive by the house at different times of the day.
  • Examine how other houses in the neighborhood are maintained.
  • Consider any potential traffic or other disruptive noise.
  • Is there ample parking for you and visitors?
  • Read the details in any Homeowner Association agreements (HOA fees and rules).

Make sure to do a preliminary check of house details:

  • Check the water:
  • Does it have good pressure?
  • How long does it take to get the water hot?
  • Is it well water or city water?
  • Turn light switches on and off.
  • Open and close doors and windows to make sure they work properly.
  • Review previous utility bill expenses.
  • Consider the property tax bill.

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Family meeting with realtor at new house

When writing an offer contract, be sure to pay attention to all of the details.

Offer Price:

Your agent should do a market analysis that pulls data on recently sold comparable houses. The best comparisons will come from the same neighborhood.

If you are asking for the seller to pay some of the closing costs, remember that this cost plus the sales commission determines the net amount you are offering the seller for the house.

Work with your agent on your negotiation strategy. There are many things to consider, such as how badly you want this particular house, whether it is a buyer’s or seller’s market and an assessment of the seller’s motivation to get the property sold.

There isn’t one best strategy.

Be sure to document in writing everything you want included with the house, such as appliances, etc. Your agent should guide you through the contract step-by-step.

Contingencies:

  • Home inspection.
  • Mortgage.
  • Final walk through (24 hours prior to closing).

Proposed closing date. Typically, this is 30-45 days from an accepted offer.

A good-faith deposit is required for the offer. This is typically between 1-10% of the purchase price of the house. The deposit is kept in escrow until closing and the money is applied to the purchase price of the house at closing. If the house does not close due to one of the contingency clauses, the buyer receives their money back. However, if the buyer decides not to close on the property, the seller may get the deposit money.

Attach your pre-approval letter to the offer.

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Two people in professional meeting

The clock starts ticking for everything documented in the contract, including mortgage application, inspections and closing date.

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Woman advising other woman on mortgage application

You will need to decide which mortgage to select prior to the application.

Plan for the following potential fees:

  • Application fee (many banks and mortgage companies charge an application fee; however, there is not an application fee at Arthur State Bank).
  • Credit check.
  • Appraisal (may be paid at closing).
  • Loan origination fee (paid at closing).

Once you have approval for your loan, make sure you don’t change anything that will impact the status of your mortgage. Banks do a final check on credit and jobs just prior to closing, so now is not the time to change jobs or make another purchase on credit such as a car or furniture.

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Home inspector going over findings with home owner

Depending on the size of the house, an inspection can cost on average between $300 to $1000.

Many real estate contracts specify how problems uncovered in the inspection will be resolved, up to a certain dollar amount. Should necessary repairs exceed that amount, the buyer has the option to cancel the contract without penalty and receive their deposit money back. Another option is for the buyer and seller to renegotiate who will pay for additional repairs.

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Woman happily holding keys to her new home
  • Homeowner’s insurance is required by the lender prior to closing on the loan.
  • Turn on utilities in your name, effective the closing date.
  • Change your address with the U.S. Postal Service.
  • Make moving arrangements.

Three days prior to closing:

  • You should receive your final Closing Disclosure from the closing agency. The final Closing Disclosure shows a column for the seller and a column for the buyer. All closing charges and credits for both the seller and the buyer are documented in the closing statement.
  • Review the closing statement for accuracy prior to coming to closing.
  • The final amount in the buyer’s column shows you the amount of money you need to pay at closing.

The closing office will provide specific payment instructions. Closing funds have become recent targets for cybercriminals. If you are asked to use a wire transfer, call the office and ask to speak to someone you have been working with to double-check the instructions.

Closing day:

In South Carolina, the closing will usually take place at the attorney’s office. Everyone signing for the mortgage must be present to sign the closing paperwork. Make sure you bring the following:

  • Cashier’s check or proof of payment for wire transfer.
  • Driver’s license.
  • Checkbook, just in case there are any additional items that were not on the closing statement.

Be sure to understand this information:

  • How and when you will pay:
  • Your mortgage.
  • Your property taxes.
  • Your homeowner’s insurance.
  • Any HOA dues.
  • Who to call with any questions.

The best practice is to go through the homebuyer’s roadmap in this sequence. However, if you jumped ahead early in your journey, just circle back to address the steps you missed.

Arthur State Bank’s loan officers are closely tapped into local real estate markets and experts at helping clients get what they need on terms that work for them. We also offer mortgage specials for first-time homebuyers.

To start planning your journey to your dream home, try out our mortgage calculator. If you’re ready to talk to a loan officer, contact Arthur State Bank to request personalized mortgage information today. Don’t forget to ask about our first-time homebuyer offer.

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