We can activate account alert features on certain accounts to notify us about some changes to our existing accounts in order to detect and sometimes prevent fraud. These alerts are fairly real time and can help identify quickly whether certain transactions brought to our attention through the alerts are valid transactions initiated and approved by us or fraudulent transactions. Most accounts which we access online to check balances or make payments provide such capability to alert us of any changes made to the accounts only if we activate account alert feature. Some alerts are more sophisticated than others depending on how the financial institution sets up the alert feature. Some may report all changes impacting the account while others may allow you to decide and choose which transactions you would like to monitor more closely. Some of my online accounts started providing transaction alerts as soon as I registered my accounts for online account management. For other accounts, I had to manually activate account alert feature, and in some cases decide and select what transactions I wanted to be alerted about. For example, my online savings accounts provide automatic alerts for each cash transfer between other pre-authorized checking or savings accounts. This feature was automatically activated the moment I opened my online savings account. From my standpoint, credit transaction alerts don't pose the same level of risk as debit transactions. But, what I’m really concerned about is unauthorized debit transactions made to my account.
How alerts work
When you activate account alert features, every time a transaction is initiated on your account, you get an email indicating a transaction was initiated. Some email notifications are not very specific but at least they give an indication of an account activity. For example, when I transfer money in between my savings account and other accounts, I get and email alert indicating the transfer from my savings account within a minute. Some alerts may not provide details like the amount of the transfer, and may just indicate that a transfer was made. This alert is enough for me to determine whether I made the transfer or someone else did. If I’m suspicious of the activity, I can always log into my account and get the details about the transfer such as the amount of the transfer and the account to which the transfer was made. Some alerts can also prevent fraud such as when we get notification about an unauthorized password change which should prompt us to immediately contact the bank and freeze the account.
Register your accounts for online access
Before you can activate account alert, you have to setup your account for online access. You can register your accounts for online access before or after making sure the bank offers an alert feature. I normally like to setup my accounts for online access even if the bank doesn’t offer account alerts because the online access allows me to monitor my account activities daily from any location in the world to detect any unauthorized transactions with or without alerts. Every bank offers a different method for registering and accessing your account information online but whatever method they use, they mainly want to make sure they allow their customers to register and easily access their account information online but in order to provide security for their clients, they ask you to take certain action and/or provide certain information to authenticate your identity. Can you imagine if someone gets the hold of your personal information needed to register an account for online access and authenticate as if that person was you? To address this huge risk, banks take all the precautions to make sure they only allow the rightful owner of the account to access the account details online by fully verifying the identity of the account owner.
Decide what transactions you want to monitor
If the alert feature allows you to select the type of transactions that you want to be alerted about, pick the transactions that potentially present the highest risks. You can also activate all of the transaction alerts available but there must be a balance between risk tolerance or risk acceptance and time spent managing the risk. For example, when I first started using this feature, I activated all alerts, then I realized I was bombarded with alert e-mails regarding the activities on my account, some of which I could care less. I did not have enough time to follow up on all email alerts, which defeated the purpose of the alerts. One example is an alert regarding every credit transaction or small amount debits, although small amount debit transactions may be an indication of a bigger fraud to come. You see, sometimes, fraudsters charge a small amount like 2 cents to a credit card account as a way to learn about the account status such as whether the account is open or closed or if it allows the transaction to go through. If the 2 cents transaction is successful, they plan on attacking that account with all force and as quickly as possible. So, monitoring small amount debits is a personal choice and a matter of having enough time to follow up. Some alerts allow the establishment of a threshold after which a transaction is triggered for alert. You can pick this feature and activate account alert for all transaction above $100 for example or any other amount you choose. Again, it’s a personal preference based on risk and time. Monitoring credit transactions on the other hand is a good idea if you want to know when a credit is posted to your account for budgeting purposes. But if you activate all alerts and don’t follow up on them because of time limitations, then you defeat the purpose. Decide what transactions are important to you, activate account alert for those transactions and follow up if needed.
Set up your accounts for transfer
Once you register and setup your accounts for online access, you can also link other bank accounts to make transfers in-between accounts. As I mentioned, this feature is available for accounts at the same bank as well as accounts at other banks. This feature is very useful as it allows saved money to work hard and earn interest until it is needed for a quick online transfer to my checking account if needed. Usually it takes longer to transfer money to another bank account. This buffer of 3 days or so is required by banks to prevent fraud.
Selecting and providing an e-mail address
As you activate account alert, the system will require an email address to send you the alerts. Select the e-mail address wisely and pick the one that you normally check a few times during the day. It is not useful for this purpose to pick an email address that you rarely check. You want to be alerted about potential fraudulent transactions as soon as possible for immediate follow-up.
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