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Is it safe to pay bills online?

Answered December 17, 2011

Online bill paying (mp3)

While lots of others use them routinely, there are plenty of people who still wonder whether it's safe to use online bill-paying, banking, or stock trading. The answer has three parts.

First, in most cases, it is safe to do these things. But you as a consumer should insist on some basic levels of protection. Most importantly, you should only ever exchange information with details like credit-card numbers or similar information over a secured link. Always make sure that you're using a secured server before sending this information. You can tell because the address for the site you're visiting will start with https://, not the usual http://. The "s" tells you it's been secured. You'll probably also see an icon like a padlock on your screen, and may also have to approve the use of a security certificate. But first and foremost, you'll need to see the https designation.

Second, you'll need to make sure that your own computer and network are properly secured. It's essential that you only exchange private security details over a secured network. So if you're like most people and you're using a wireless network at home, be certain that you're using one of the standard encryption systems.

Finally, always be sure that your computer is being run in a secure fashion -- with antivirus and anti-spyware software, to make certain that nobody can snoop in on your data when you're sending it to the bank or another service.

Of course, always use your best judgment. If you have questions about security and don't feel comfortable with a site, walk away. It's always better to be more cautious than less when it comes to your valuable personal details.