FAQ for customers worried about accounts getting hacked

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Q: Should you be worried that hackers will get their mitts on your money?

A: Yes and no, experts say.

"It's always a possibility," said Gerri Detweiler, personal finance expert with Credit.com. "Your money at the bank is on a computer, not sitting in a vault somewhere."

Doug Johnson, senior adviser of risk management policy at the American Bankers Association, said that rather than feeling more vulnerable, people should feel safer when they hear about large cases being brought against cybercriminals.

"We are increasingly seeing a greater level of cooperation with foreign [authorities] trying to arrest these people. That's the good news," he said.

Q: What happens if your bank account gets hacked?

A: Customers are fully reimbursed for any unauthorized transactions, Mr. Johnson said.

Under federal law, banks have "several weeks" to research the suspected fraud and make at least a provisional credit, he said. Typically, however, consumers are reimbursed much more quickly, usually within a few days of the fraud being reported, he said.

"Banks are incented to provide reimbursement quickly because that is what provides trust in the overall system," he said.

Q: Are protections on business accounts different?

A: Yes. In the case of unauthorized transactions involving business accounts, a determination will be made about whether the company was practicing proper security, Mr. Johnson said.

"If the business was not fulfilling its obligation, it may not be fully reimbursed," he said.

Q: What can you do to help protect yourself?

A: Monitor your accounts frequently for suspicious transactions, paying attention to small transactions as well as big ones.

"Sometimes a thief will run a small test through an account" to see if it works, Ms. Detweiler said. "A small transaction could be a sign of something bigger to come."

Ms. Detweiler recommends logging into your account every few days.

If you don't bank online, learn how, she said. "Relying solely on getting a statement each month is risky."

If anything looks questionable, report it to your financial institution immediately.

It's also a good idea to follow up with a written complaint, Ms. Detweiler said.

Patricia Sabatini: psabatini@post-gazette.com or 412-263-3066.

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