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Don’t fear online money management – banker’s hours are whatever you choose

November, 2010

Online banking. Two words that mean so very much.

You can pay your bills, shop, send money to the kids or grandkids, all with a few simple clicks. You may be wondering how secure these transactions are — we’ve all heard horror stories — but as long as you practice safe surfing, you don’t have to worry.

Most banks can set you up for online banking with a quick phone call to the number on the back of your debit card. However, some banks do require you to come in person to get the ball rolling.

Once you do, you won’t regret it.

Keep this in mind: Your bank will never, ever, ask for your password or account information via email. Never enter your banking information anywhere except the secure website provided by your bank.

Email “security alert” frauds are a dime a dozen, but your bank will never email you if there’s a problem. If you’re in doubt about an email or phone call that claims to be from your bank, call the number on the back of your card and confirm it with a representative.

It can take a little time to get everything set up, but you can pay for most of your services — phone, hydro, etc. — through an online account. To add a payee, all you need is a recent bill. Your banking website should be able to help you through the process, or if you prefer, you can call them and ask for guidance.

A nice thing about paying your bills online is that you can decide when the money leaves your account — you can pay right away or postdate a payment. It’s even possible to set up an automatic monthly payment that can be cancelled at your discretion. Personally, I find this to be a much better option than having the company make automatic withdrawals.

Did you know you can shop online without a credit card? Several companies, including Chapters, Birks, The Source, Cineplex and Via Rail, allow you to use Interac Online to pay for your purchases.

It’s completely secure and perhaps a little too handy. Simply choose the Interac Online payment option at checkout. The website will open a new page and ask you to log into your bank account and confirm the transaction. Most major banks, including Scotiabank, TD, BMO and RBC, are part of the program.

Interac Online also allows you to email money from your account to anyone else in Canada. There’s a fee (usually about $1.50) but it’s a great way to send emergency funds, a birthday gift or in my case the rent. All you need is a valid email address and a security question (make sure your recipient knows the answer!). Just be careful not to fall for the “I’m travelling and have been robbed!” email fraud that’s been going around. Always, always know who you are sending money to and why; nothing replaces a phone call at times like this.

Online banking gives you much better control over what’s happening in your account — you can monitor transactions and if something fishy does happen you’ll be able to deal with it much more quickly.

Here’s a true story: My spouse and I have a joint account and it’s easy to lose track of who’s spending what, so we check it frequently. One of us was shopping downtown and someone cloned our card (it was copied, a very good reason never to hand your bank card to anyone). We immediately spotted something unusual — a large sum of money. The culprit had made a fake deposit but hadn’t yet withdrawn the funds. A quick call to the bank and all was put right. If we hadn’t spotted this so quickly it would have made for a much bigger headache.

Don’t let a story like that one scare you off, though. Banks have measures in place to protect you against just this sort of thing. There are guarantees against fraud and in the unlikely event that you are a victim of an online theft, your money will usually be completely reimbursed.



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