So I’m in line at the bank one day, and I overhear a conversation between a banker and a customer about getting free online access to the customer’s bank account. The customer didn’t have a computer at home but did have an e-mail address he accessed through work and the library. So the banker suggested going ahead and setting up online access to his bank accounts, so the customer could access his bank info from work or from the library.
That raised two red flags for me. First, most employers prefer you not use work computers for personal business. Usually that means no surfing the net for the latest sports scores during work hours. Some employers will, however, allow you limited use, such as during your lunch hour. Regardless, it’s best to check with your employer first. No point in getting in trouble with the boss over using a computer for personal reasons.
Realize too, that any info you access through your work PC can probably be seen by your employer. So if you do access personal information such as your bank account, credit card, e-bay, PayPal, etc., you may be inviting your employer to take a look as well. Not that they’d want to, but you never know what the tech guys might run across during their maintenance checks, virus scans, and e-mail filters. Your personal info (bank account number, password, balance, etc.) might now be known by your employer. If you don’t want to chance that, don’t use your work PC to access your personal financial records.
The second red flag (and this was the bigger one) was the suggestion to access the bank account info from the library. It’s dicey enough using the net to access secure online info from home, from your own PC that you can pretty well regulate access to. I think it’s taking way too much risk opening up your personal financial records from any public-access PC, such as at the library. I’m not knocking library safeguards; it’s just too convenient a target for less-sophisticated criminal types to try and get some easy personal financial data. You really have to know how to wipe your net trail clean (cookies, browser cache, etc.) if you use a public-access PC. The same concept applies to any public-access wi-fi point, such as Starbucks, a hotel, or the airport.
The adage about e-mails is also true; if you don’t want it public, don’t say it in e-mail. Same with your personal financial data. If you don’t want it public (in the hands of some thief), then don’t access your accounts from a public place. Only access your financial information from a relatively secure location, like your home PC. And of course, make sure you have current anti-virus and firewall software protection in place.
Particularly as you enter the pre-retirement years (age 50 and over), the last thing you want to deal with is identity theft of any sort. So part of maximizing your retirement readiness is maintaining a constant guard over your online financial data. A few simple, short-term precautions translate into long-term financial peace of mind. Let’s be safe out there!