Monday, April 30, 2007

Go paperless for safer banking

I did it. I finally went paperless. I’ve been using personal finance software for several years, and paying my bills online for just as long. But paper statements from my financial institutions and credit card companies were afterthoughts. In fact, I usually thought of them only when cursing the clutter they caused and the storage space they demanded. It was not convenience or the desire to simplify that finally led me to the switch. It was security.

You and your money are more at risk if you receive paper statements than if you go 100% electronic. Here's what you need to know to go paperless.

Identity theft experts have been telling us for years that sending sensitive financial documents through the mail is a bad idea. Paper account statements and credit card bills often give mail thieves all the information they need to take over your finances.

You could lessen the danger by buying a locking mailbox and depositing outgoing mail at the post office. But you can really limit the risk by going paperless.

People who bank entirely online, using Online Banking, BillPayer and paperless statements, more commonly referred to at Hawthorne, as eStatements, reduce their chances of becoming identity theft victims by about 20%, according to researcher James Van Dyke.

If you’re tempted to follow my lead - here’s what you need to do:

Increase security on your computer. Anyone cruising the Internet should have a good firewall and software to combat pop-ups, spyware and viruses. If your financial life is on your computer, then you need to be particularly diligent about making sure you have protections in place and update the security programs regularly.

Monitor your accounts. Most online security experts recommend checking your accounts at least weekly, and I monitor mine twice a week. One easy way to stay on top of your accounts is by downloading your transactions into a personal finance software like Quicken. This financial program makes the process painless and fast, allowing you to see exactly what’s going on in your accounts.

Don’t get hooked by phishing scams. The biggest risk to your financial records may be your own gullibility. Surveys by Gartner research found 5% of the adults they surveyed had revealed personal financial information, such as account numbers and passwords, in response to e-mails “alerting” them of a problem or an update to one of their financial accounts. To find out more about how to recognize and avoid these scams, click here.

At Hawthorne we always encourage our members to take the necessary security precautions by enrolling in eStatements. You can also save time and money by taking advantage of our other online banking products. At Hawthorne Credit Union you can view your accounts online with Online Banking and pay your bills online with BillPayer .

By offering these free services as part of our first-class Online Package, we allow you to quickly and easily pay all your bills and manage your finances online. No more stamps, envelopes, check writing, or lost mail!

Stop by our Naperville branch on Saturday, May 19 from 10 a.m. to noon and bring two bankers boxes full of old documents for free shredding (bring cancelled checks, old bank statements, credit card offers, old tax documents, etc.) and attend our Free Identity Theft seminar. We're also giving away a free document shredder, so stop in and enter.

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