Identity theft is an unanticipated nightmare. You never see it coming and you won’t realize—until it is too late—that your privacy had been invaded and your financial security put at grave risk.
On the heels of identity theft, money loss and debt come swiftly and suddenly. In these difficult circumstances, the best a victim can do is to fight a rearguard action against an enemy that has already penetrated their personal sanctuary.
Cyber-criminality has magnified as the Internet has become a ubiquitous presence in all of our lives. Even as banking has moved into the digital sphere, so too have thieves and scammers, who see golden opportunities where others see ease and convenience. Identity theft is a crime of opportunity, and our vulnerability to it has intensified as our most sensitive personal information has begun to travel far and wide across the virtual landscape.
Your online vulnerability to identity theft has two dimensions. First, because you store and transmit your personal data online, crooks and interlopers of all types are constantly trying to figure out ways to access it remotely. If they’re successful, they can enrich themselves at your expense. Second, because Internet transactions are so common now, thieves who steal your personal information can imitate you online and deplete your bank accounts and run up debts in your name at lightning speed, with little fear of being detected.
You, of course, bear a great responsibility in this matter. It isn’t entirely fair that you have to worry about this, but you do. Most identity theft happens because you inadvertently give criminals access to your personal information, and once they have it there is usually no stopping them.
But banks are not standing passively on the sidelines. Banks know they have a responsibility to do everything in their power to protect you from predators and schemers. And they do not take that responsibility lightly. Cyber-security is the new frontier, and banks are investing a great amount of time and resources to stay ahead of the nefarious games that fraudsters, cheaters, rustlers and hustlers are experts at playing.
Here are eight security measures banks frequently use to protect you against identity theft and the terrible consequences of it once it occurs:
- Establishing an early warning system
With knowledge comes power. This is doubly true in cyber-security, where thieves always seek out the naïve and the unaware.
Banks are diligent in their efforts to track the latest schemes, scams and strategies used by con artists who want to steal your personal information and use it against you. Banks also collect copious amounts of information on the latest malware invaders, which seem to multiply like rabbits in a field of lettuce.
All of this is done for your benefit, and whenever a new threat emerges, banks will alert their customers as swiftly as possible.
- The use of watermark authentication
A watermark is a unique image chosen by you. Whenever you sign in to your online bank account, your watermark should be on display. If it isn’t, the site you’ve opened is a fake, an artificial copy of your bank’s website manufactured by individuals attempting to steal your username, password and PIN for their own use.
This practice is known as phishing or pharming, and it is one of the most common types of data theft used by Internet thieves.
- State-of-the-art encryption to keep customer information secure
Banks use the best available methods of encryption to ensure your safety and security. When you transmit your personal information on a bank’s website, it is scrambled in order to make it unreadable to any party that might intercept it. Only your bank has the code to decipher its true meaning. So when you disclose sensitive data on a bank website, you can rest easy knowing it will be kept safe from prying eyes.
- Proactive password management
You should change your password periodically. But if you don’t, most banks will require you to do it eventually, for your own safety. Specific policies vary, but bank passwords normally have expiration dates and at some point you’ll have to make a switch.
Banks generally have strict limits on how often you can enter an incorrect password before you’re locked out of the system. This eliminates penetration by serial guessing, so if you’ve forgotten your password you’ll have to request a reset (and the reset procedure will be completely secure as well).
- The installation of monitoring systems to detect unusual or suspicious activity
When setting up an online bank account, you’ll be asked to select some challenge questions, with answers that only you would know.
In order to protect you, online banking activity is tracked for commonality and consistency. Unusual requests or money transfers could be a sign that identity thieves have obtained your information and are trying to divert funds to outlets they control. This may not have happened, but if it has you can establish your identity by answering your challenge questions correctly.
- Access restrictions based on IP address
This is not automatic but is frequently offered as an option. You can ask your bank to allow access to your online accounts only if the request is coming from a particular computer. That way you can be sure interlopers in remote locations are frozen out, so even if they snatch your data they won’t be able to penetrate your defenses by impersonating you online.
- Require identity verification when you make modifications to your account or your sign-in information
You are of course free to make changes to your online accounts as you see fit. But you may be asked to verify your identity when you do so, to make sure it is really you who is doing the changing. The process of identity verification won’t be overly taxing, so there should be no inconvenience.
- Onsite measures to ensure financial security for customers
Banks maintain rigid standards of internal security in order to guarantee bank employees and others with access to the physical premises won’t have the opportunity to steal the personal information of customers.
Identity verification is always required during onsite banking transactions, and PIN numbers and personal signatures may be required as a part of the process. So unless you have an evil identical twin who’s stolen your ID, account number and PIN and learned to perfectly duplicate your signature, you shouldn’t have to worry about onsite bank theft.