Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How can online banking help me manage my retirement?

Online Banking Safety Concerns
If you're managing your retirement funds online, you don't have to visit a brick-and-mortar bank to make changes to your account.
If you're managing your retirement funds online, you don't have to visit a brick-and-mortar bank to make changes to your account.

How likely is it that hackers can break into online bank accounts? The truth of the matter is that online banking is as safe as conducting transactions at a brick-and-mortar bank. The money is there, it's accessible to you, and in case anything happens, it's insured.

But moving your money around electronically may still feel strange, even a little disturbing. Hold on to that feeling. Online banking services go to extraordinary lengths to safeguard their customers' information and finances, but the weak link is the account holder. Though it's unlikely that some super-genius hacker is cracking your account password (you picked a strong one, right?), there are plenty of other ways that thieves will try to get their hands on your funds. In most cases, the best and easiest way to get into an account is through real-world information -- rifling through your garbage and happening to find a Social Security number, stealing your credit card data or even tricking you into revealing it yourself. Protecting your confidential information is your first responsibility.

Sending fake e-mails is one of the most common ways that thieves try to access your online accounts. By pretending to be your bank, thieves can coerce or trick you into giving away your personal information, usually by offering a hyperlink to a Web page where you can update or verify your information. Sometimes, these e-mails will include a seemingly innocuous attachment, which, after you open it, will allow a hacker access to your computer. It's easy enough to make an e-mail look like it's coming from your bank, even if the e-mail address looks real. Real banks never, ever ask customers to verify sensitive information by e-mail. You can protect yourself by never opening attachments in e-mails (unless you know exactly what the file is), never following unsolicited links and keeping your antivirus software updated.

This may make online banking seem dangerous, but online banking can actually make it a lot simpler to protect yourself. Having a continuous flow of information allows you and your bank to monitor your accounts. The key is to make sure that if there is a problem, you and your bank catch it quickly and rectify it. Checking for any irregularities in your statements and accounts means that you can stop identity thieves quickly, when the damage can still be reversed. Keep an eye out for any strange changes to your credit report, or any changes to your bank statements that you didn't make yourself.