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Online banks offer interest rates that leave competitors in the dust. But when you're sending your money off into cyberspace, you probably wonder: Are online banks safe?
Short answer: Yes. Online banks are some of the safest places to store your money. In many ways, they're similar to traditional brick-and-mortar banks. But it's important to follow standard web best practices when banking online.
Here's a closer look at how online banks protect your money, plus tips on how to keep money safe from hackers.
Online banks operate 100% online. They don't have any branch networks, so you manage your money from your phone or computer, occasionally stopping by an ATM when you need cash.
This model lets online banks save money on running the business. Banks pass these savings along to you in the form of higher annual percentage yields (APYs) and lower fees.
Apart from this, they're pretty much the same as traditional banks. And like traditional banks, online banks take big steps to protect your money.
Are online banks safe? You'll be glad to learn both online and brick-and-mortar banks offer two types of protection: protection against hackers and protection against bankruptcy.
The Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) protects consumers against bank failure. Most online bank accounts are FDIC insured. In the unlikely event your bank goes out of business, the FDIC must recover up to $250,000 per account per bank.
Joint accounts are insured up to $250,000 per co-owner per bank. So if a married couple has a joint checking account, it would be insured for up to $500,000.
If you opt for an online credit union instead of an online bank, your money may not be FDIC insured, but it's still protected. Credit unions are covered by the National Credit Union Association (NCUA), and it offers similar insurance.
Encryption helps protect your online banking information from hackers. Online banks use the same 256-bit advanced encryption standard (AES) that brick-and-mortar banks do. This is the same encryption the military uses to protect classified information.
But encryption doesn't protect against all hackers. Hackers can sneak into your accounts by effectively pretending to be you. Tactics include guessing weak passwords or sending you a phishing link to trick you into handing over sensitive information.
That's why many online banks now offer two-factor authentication, bonus security on top of usernames and passwords. It usually means entering a code that's texted to your phone. Enabling two-factor authentication makes it way harder for an identity thief to break into your account.
If you're thinking about opening a checking account online -- or any bank account, really -- take the following steps to ensure you're working with a legitimate institution.
Poke around the bank website to see if anything seems off. Look at its "About Us" page for obvious errors, like a bunch of misspellings. That's a bad sign: It suggests the site was created in a hurry.
Google the bank and look for customer reviews. If you can't find any, or most reviewers call the bank a scam, stay away.
Most legitimate banks have an "FDIC insured" notice at the bottom of their website. But you can do more to confirm a bank is legitimate.
Use the FDIC's BankFind tool to verify an online bank has FDIC insurance. You can search by bank name, FDIC certificate number, or web address. If you can't find anything on your bank here, steer clear.
One thing to note: If you're working with an online bank that partners with a traditional bank, the two institutions might operate under the same FDIC certificate number. If that's the case, you may have to look up the partner bank for these details.
Most banks have a page on their website detailing how they protect their customers' money, but if you can't find anything similar, you can ask the bank directly over phone or email. Ask about two-factor authentication as well.
Double check that the bank's URL begins with "https" instead of "http." The extra "s" indicates information on the website is encrypted and won't be easily hacked.
Most banks offer digital services these days. Banks do what they can to protect your information, but you should take precautions to keep your personal information safe. Here are a few tips to help you do that on the web or mobile banking apps:
Verify an online bank is legitimate by investigating its website, checking out customer reviews, and verifying the bank is FDIC insured.
Online banking is very safe, but you must guard your passwords and avoid banking on public wifi networks to prevent thieves from hacking your accounts. You also need to be on the alert for phishing scams that try to trick you into revealing your account information.
No. Online banks use the same encryption and FDIC insurance that brick-and-mortar banks do to protect their customers.
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