WASHINGTON (7/16/08)--An easy way to “go green” with finances is to pay bills online. But you quickly can wipe out the benefits of online bill payment if you accidentally ditch the decimal point, add zeros when you don’t have to, or neglect to take adequate precautions with your private information (AARP Magazine
July/August 2008). Online bill-pay clearly is safer than receiving paper statements and sending paper checks via snail mail--crooks can heist account numbers from mailed credit card bills, steal Social Security numbers from unsecured documents, or run off with incoming mail from unlocked mailboxes. Or, your payment could be misdirected or lost altogether. Good advice: Don’t type “00” to indicate "no cents." If you accidentally misplace the decimal point when entering the amount, and have used the 00s, you may unwittingly authorize a payment 100 times the intended amount. You need only enter the whole dollars, for example, $68, not $68.00. Some software automatically will fill in the cents columns for you. If you use online banking to pay your bills, be aware of some simple do’s and don’ts:
* Do install a firewall. Visit download.com for software reviews and downloads. * Do use caution with automated payments. AARP recommends using automated payments only for mortgage payments or savings plans--typically those with consistent payment amounts over time. * Do check your budget often. Will you have sufficient funds in your account by the payment date? * Do a double-take. Log back in later and make sure the payments were sent and processed correctly. * Don’t click "Send" too quickly. Is the decimal point in the right place? Did you type the amount correctly? * Don’t forget to log out. Avoid public computers for any type of financial activity, and never use the “Remember my password” option--even at home. * Don’t hand over personal information. If you’re asked for personal information in an e-mail message or over the phone, that’s a red flag. Hit delete or hang up. And remember, your credit union would never call to ask you this type of information; it already has the information on file.