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Due to the rising popularity of Internet banking and online trading, JOHN HARRIS warns that danger of cyber-crooks raiding your bank account is much closer than you think.

At his bank last week, my mate Mike heard another customer announce her account number in a nice clear voice.

“Thank you,” he interjected politely, repeating the number back to her. “You’ve just given me one of the keys to your bank account.”

Mike was speaking from experience because he was in the bank that day to complete rectifying the damage wrought on his credit security by cyber bandits.

He was first alerted to something amiss in his banking business when an email to his iPhone stated that his $800 e-cheque to P. Evans in the UK would be cleared in three day.

He knew nothing about it.

That alert was followed by an alarming email from online payment service PayPal which suggested Mike’s account may have experienced some “unauthorised third party activity”.

Long story short, Mike discovered that online criminals from the US had hacked into his PayPal account which contained credit card and bank account details.

Using that data, they attempted – unsuccessfully – to transfer two lots of money, one for $900, the other the aforementioned $800, to the fraudulent P. Evans in the UK.

Mike immediately cancelled his credit card and curtailed online access to his bank account while he strengthened passwords for all his accounts. It was more than a day of lost work and a humbling experience for a normally cautious person.

“The lesson is that this sort of cyber bank raid can happen to anyone,” Mike admitted. “I just feel fortunate that I have instant email access so this suspicious activity was flagged with me immediately.”

Mike’s brush with cyber bandits is an increasingly common story as more Australians embrace the low cost and convenience of online access to their bank accounts.

Recent research claims that one in 10 Australian Internet users have lost money due to online identity fraud during the past year with losses totalling $1.286 billion.

The June survey of 2510 Australians by Galaxy Research, estimated that 1.37 million Australians – 10 per cent of Internet users – have fallen victim to online fraud in the past year.

So here are a few keys to help lock out the cyber-crooks:

  1. Strong passwords: Mix letters, numbers, punctuation and symbols: Don’t base passwords on personal information such as your name, birthday, driver's license number or address
  2. Change passwords regularly and don’t share them
  3. Protect your privacy: Don’t reveal your bank account details to anyone you don’t trust and never provide personal details such your user ID or passwords in response to an e-mail.
  4. Stay alert: Be wary of any e-mail from someone you do not know and delete spam email as soon as it arrives, particularly if it has a hyperlink to a bank’s website
  5. Check your records: Always review bank statements for any suspicious transactions.

As for Mike, he’s buying a Cross Lotto ticket this weekend because he reckons he’s running lucky.

John Harris is managing director of Impress Media Australia. Email jharris@impress.com.au.

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