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Banking from your Backpack

by David Stephens

Internet banking can be a gift from banks to the lucky traveller. No longer do you need to wait for the statement in the mail to find out how much money you have in your account. No longer do you need to go to your bank branch to pay off your credit card. You can do it all from your nearest internet-connected computer – be it in your home town, or on the other side of the planet.

What is internet banking?
From any internet-connected computer, you can access your bank accounts – no special software required. Why bother? You can:

  • See how much money you have left
  • If your credit card is linked, see how much credit you have left, and what you have spent
  • Pay bills
  • Transfer money to other people’s accounts
  • Move money from an interest bearing account to your credit card
  • See if money has been paid in (thanks Mum!)

How do you get started?
Talk to your bank, or visit their website. Enrolment is usually easy and quick – but do it before you leave town! Note there are also some ‘internet only’ banks that you can also enrol in.

Is it safe?
This is the big question, and in a word – probably. Banks are very interested in getting you to use internet banking as it saves them money, so they’re on your side. The advantages you have are:

  • Website security – your bank secures everything behind the website, so here your funds are safe.
  • Encryption – you’re talking to your bank from another country, and you don’t want people listening in, so the information is encrypted (for the techos, it’s 128 bit encryption, and most banks won’t talk to an internet browser without it).

So how isn’t it safe?
The bottom line: if someone has your account number and password, you’ve just given the key to your bank account. And there are some devious ways that people can try to get them from you. The big three are:

  • Fraudulent websites – look like the real thing, but aren’t (instead, they save your account number and password, and go shopping)
  • Phishing – you get an email, asking for your account and password (and they can look very professional). If you answer with the information, they’re into your funds!
  • Trojan Horse – but in this case the horse is a virus that installs itself on a computer, and keeps tabs on key-strokes that you enter – particularly dangerous when using a cyber-café to look at your bank account.

So how can I use it safely?
Let’s give you some hints:

  • Keep your bank account and password information SECRET. Don’t tell people. Don’t write it down next to the words ‘internet banking’ in your stuff. In fact, don’t write it down at all. And make the password HARD TO GUESS.
  • Change your password frequently – particularly if you think someone may have found it out (you can do this when you logon to internet banking).
  • Never send your account and password information in an email to anyone (emails can be read by other people en route).
  • OK, you’re at the computer, and you’re about to hit the bank’s website. Type in the URL (the website address) yourself. Don’t use a link from other webpages or emails (they may take you to a fraudulent website). You type it in, you know where you’re going.
  • Look for the Lock
    Look for the Lock

  • So, you’re at the website. Before typing in that treasured account number and password be sneaky. Have a look at the bottom right hand corner for a lock or similar symbol. This says that you’re now secure, and encrypting information sent to your bank (you can click on this picture to see more info). Also have a look at the URL at the top (if there is one), which should start with https://.
  • Be VERY CAREFUL of using cyber-cafés – unless they have the latest anti-virus and firewall software installed, the computers could be wide open to Trojan Horses. If you have to use a cyber-café, go to the most reputable one you can find.

Banks are constantly improving their security to make internet banking safer. Some banks offer a new security feature called ‘two factor identification.’ This means that your password changes all the time (an example is a keypad where you type in a number using your mouse, but the position of the numbers on the keypad changes every time), so there’s far less risk of a Trojan Horse causing you problems. Ask your bank if they offer this.

More information?
Go to your bank’s website – almost all will have more information somewhere here, including security info. Also have a look at BankSafeOnline for more info on internet banking security.