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Safe Online Banking and Payments

By: Lucy Debenham BA (hons) - Updated: 14 Oct 2012 | comments*Discuss
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The Internet has served to make so many aspects of our lives much easier and more flexible. Online shopping, communication, working online and even 24 hour online banking are just some of the benefits that can be enjoyed by the average consumer.

But unfortunately there are those that would try and take advantage of modern technology for their own gain, much to the detriment of the honest and hardworking Average Joe. Arming yourself with the knowledge of how online banking and payments can be accessed by criminals, and how to protect yourself can only improve your daily online experience and sense of security.


There are basically three different types of scam that you might come up against when banking online. These scams have the sole aim of trying to slyly obtain your personal card and banking details, or security information that will mean access can be gained to your banking accounts. Recognising when you are a target for an online scam is the first step in combating this kind of online fraud.

The preliminary step that all Internet users should take is to ensure that anti-spyware, anti-virus software is installed with a secure firewall. This helps to stop any virus from being downloaded. Also downloading the latest version of your Internet browser, including any recent 'patches' (updates designed to safeguard against recent threats) will also help protect your computer.


The first type of scam is known as a 'Trojan' - the name comes from the legend of the Trojan horse used to infiltrate an otherwise secure line. Trojans are a type of computer virus that install themselves on the victim's computer where they try and capture sensitive security information and send it back to the fraudster.

One type of Trojan virus is known as a 'key logger'. The key-logging virus reads all keystrokes (what you type on your keypad) and sends the information back to the fraudster. Although when you type in your password, all you physically see is a series of asterix, the virus will record the actual characters and numbers that were typed in, giving the fraudster all the necessary info to access your account. Likewise, another type of Trojan virus will perform several screen captures that visually record what is being typed into your web browser.

So how do the Trojans appear on your computer in the first place? The most common way is via unsolicited email. A fraudulent email will be sent out directing the victim to a fake malicious website, where the virus will download itself through the browser. Sometimes the unsolicited emails will contain an HTML code that downloads the Trojan if the email is viewed in HTML. The best course of action is to only read emails from trusted sources, and if reading unsolicited emails, opt for plain text only.

Gone Phishing

The second type of scam is similar to the unsolicited email mentioned above. Phishing entails the random act of sending an email to an individual that for all intents and purposes appears to have come from a genuine company. Fraudsters use this method to try and deceive users into thinking that they must provide information through a fake website, designed to look like the real thing, but set up by the scam artists. Unfortunately, this is often the case with online Internet Auction and online banking websites. The common trick is to make out that it is urgent that the user verifies or changes their details immediately. The email then directs the user to the fake website, where they type in their details, such as their username and password. The result is that the fraudsters have gained all the necessary information to access the unsuspecting user's account.

But be aware that a bank will NEVER contact you to ask you to change your details in this way. Details are never confirmed via email, any changes or confirmation is done via the original website on a secure server. Never follow through links provided in an email if you are in any doubt about their authenticity.

Money Mules are Fools

The third variation of the online scam is the money mule. These are basically money-laundering agents that operate from overseas. The problem these criminals initially face is that UK online banking doesn't usually allow cross-border transfers overseas. Therefore a money mule is needed to launder any funds to complete the process. The laundering agent is enlisted by the fraudsters to receive the money into their accounts. They then withdraw the laundered funds and wire them over to the fraudsters, taking a commission for their 'troubles'. However, money mules are often at first just unsuspecting victims who don't actually realise what they're caught up in.

Basically the potential money mules are recruited via spam emails, fake job advertisements for positions such as sales managers or financial managers, or through Internet messaging and chat room services. The victim is asked to work for the launderer's fake company and then asked to receive money into their accounts, which is then wired off. The trouble is, this money is stolen through means such as Phishing and Trojan viruses. As you'd expect, acting as a money mule is an illegal activity, and anyone caught - whether unsuspecting or not - will have action such as their bank account being suspended taken upon them.

So if an offer for quick and easy money seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Overall, the trick is to keep your computer up to date with the appropriate software and browser updates. Also keeping passwords 'strong' (so that they can't be guessed), and always keep an eye on your banking statements.

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