By Jillian Stanphill, Guest Writer

As online banking and payments expand, so does the potential for personal information to be stolen.

Online hackers have made front page news over the past few weeks, exposing the rising threat of handling money online. Within the past month, the top two Bitcoin exchange programs have frozen, and an unrelated hacking by the Syrian Electronic Army led to a handful of compromised Paypal and eBay homepages.

There are some easy ways to help protect yourself and your identity while you are online. Reading fine print carefully can determine exactly who and under what circumstances your information will be released to.

Viruses pose an unexpected  threat to online transactions, and some can even record a user’s every keystroke. Once the virus perpetrator has a record of keystrokes, he or she can decode credit card numbers, usernames and passwords.

However, viruses can be avoided by sticking to credible websites, such as those that end with .gov, .org or .edu. Additionally, do not open emails with unfamiliar subject titles or from unknown accounts.

Clicking on ads can also be a way to land a virus on your computer, and some viruses can pose as fake spam removal programs. If you do download a program aimed at removing spam from your computer, be sure to do your research before downloading any software.

It is also important to determine whether the website is under an insurance policy or not. Phrases such as Member FDIC, FDIC Insurance or the FDIC logo means that the banking institution is insured under the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation. The most important thing to keep in mind is that there is always a chance of theft. Be smart about who and where you give your personal banking information to.

Bitcoin is a new type of currency that was created by an anonymous source in 2009. It is a global currency that is entirely digital. It allows people to buy and trade globally online.

However, it is not supported or insured by any bank. It is untaxed and unregulated. On Feb. 18, two Bitcoin exchange platforms, one in Bulgaria and one in Slovenia, were having troubles with crediting transactions and withdrawals by customers. Between these two accounts, 56 percent of Bitcoin’s activity occurs.

International laws condemning hacking are few and far between, but are largely unenforceable. Each individual country may have its own set of rules for hacking, but since Bitcoin is a global currency there are no rules and therefore no legal precedent. If money is lost or identities stolen, there is no way to sue or investigate.

Benjamin Lawsky, the superintendent of the New York Department of Financial Services, said, “the long-term strength of the virtual-currency industry will require robust safety and soundness requirements — so customers have faith that their money won’t get caught in a virtual black hole.”

Many ideas of how to regulate and keep Bitcoin investors safe are in the works, but as of now investors should make sure to monitor their accounts and invest wisely. ◼︎

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