More and more people are opting out of buying stamps and mailing their monthly bills. Online bill payment is becoming a popular alternative to the paper-intensive method of writing a check, enclosing a stub, applying a stamp, and filing the remainder of the bill.
Online bill payment is faster and more convenient, and it saves paper. Caution should be exe
rcised regarding the sharing of financial information, however. Here are some things to think about with regard to paying your bills online.
One of the main reasons people choose to pay their bills online is due to environmental concerns. Online bill paying saves paper – no check, envelope, or bill in the mail – and it avoids the use of fossil fuels to deliver the mail. Electronic payment does not require a mail truck or jet fuel, in other words.
Manual versus Automatic
Most companies offer two basic ways that bills can be paid online. If you sign up for automatic payment, the company and your bank account connect electronically, and the payment amount is deducted from your account automatically when the bill is due. If you choose the manual option, you act as the “middle man” and log on to the company’s website and manually transfer money from your bank account to your bill. Both manual and automatic bill pay offer the option of receiving an email notification in addition to or instead of a paper bill.
Is It Safe?
The safety of online bill paying is definitely a concern. Besides stealing your money, online thieves can steal your identity, too. Sometimes, criminals intercept your bank’s web page with a doppleganger, so that you are filling in log-in information on a web page that looks like your bank’s, but isn’t.
Thieves can also secretly install software on your computer that monitors every keystroke you make on your keyboard. This information can be used to obtain passwords, social security numbers, and so forth. And finally, there are phishing schemes, where thieves pose as your banking institution and send you emails or telephone calls requesting log-in information.
Your bank has to identify its customers, and it’s this personal information that thieves target.
If you decide to pay your bills online, check with your bank. Financial institutions are always trying to stay a step ahead of the criminals, so find out what your bank’s latest security software and methods are. Some banks offer a “shared secret,” where anything from your dog’s photo to an answer to a question only you could know are employed to enhance security. Still other technology makes fingerprint reading possible from your home computer.