fraudulent activityJust imagine that you log into your online banking one day and realize there’s a lot less money than you budgeted for — one minute it was there, the next it’s gone. What happened to your money? Whether it’s your savings, debit card or checking account, someone’s cleared your account! To help you get through this heart-stopping moment, we’ve detailed how your information could have been leaked, what you should do about the fraudulent activity and how can you prevent it going forward.

How did your banking information get leaked?

There’s more than one way to have your account compromised. Thieves could have picked up your information in a data breach, skimmed your debit or credit card, spied on your Internet activity using malware or guessed their way into your online account, or you could have lost your wallet. With so many payment data breaches within the past year, it’s likely that your information was either picked up in a breach or copied using a skimmer on an ATM or POS machine. Regardless of how the information was leaked, it’s essential for you to take steps immediately to alleviate the fraudulent charges.

How can you fix this fraud?

When it comes to handling fraudulent activity on any sort of financial account, speed is key, as you want to make sure you put a stop to it as soon as you can. While your bank will provide you with directions on how to alleviate the situation, we’ve put together a list of things you should make sure you complete.

1. Check the activity on all of your accounts and report fraud ASAP. You’ll never know what the thieves did or saw, so you can’t be certain that all of your accounts aren’t compromised until you check for yourself. Be sure to comb through your recent banking activity and note any transactions that you don’t recognize or identify as fraud — that way your bank can mark the transactions as such — and report that fraud as soon as possible by calling your bank and asking to be connected with the fraud department. Your bank should be on alert status for all of your accounts, especially after you report any sort of fraud, but it never hurts to check on them more vigilantly yourself. It should be noted that many banks have fraud protection that will contact you (via email, text or phone) if there’s a suspicious charge on your accounts. If you’re alerted of the fraud through your bank, it’s important for you to respond to this alert and check the activity on all of your other accounts to be safe.

2. Request a new debit or credit card. If you’ve had any sort of fraud on your account, this is likely one of the first things your bank will do, but it never hurts to request a new card number yourself. Depending on the degree to which you’ve been compromised, you might want to also close your existing bank accounts and reopen them. While this may seem like an overreaction, if the thief got away with your account or routing number, they could strike again, give it to their friends or put it out for sale on the Internet. That said, if your debit or credit card was compromised, this is likely an unnecessary step, as getting a new card number will put a stop to any future fraud.

3. Follow up with your bank. While we all like to think any request we make will be completed immediately, that isn’t always the case. As such, you’ll want to make sure you follow up with your bank to make sure everything has been taken care of and your finances are no longer in jeopardy.

Is there anything you can do to prevent future fraud?

Although a breach of your financial information may be something you can’t control, there are some practices that you can adopt that will help mitigate your chances of seeing fraudulent activity on your banking account. Practicing them regularly is key in fighting against those who wish to have their way with your hard-earned money.

1. Budget your money. This might sound like it belongs in an article about financial responsibility, but it’s relevant here. The more up-to-date you are with your own spending, the sooner you’ll notice if anything is off with your account. In fact, you should keep track of your transactions on a daily basis so that you can report anything suspicious within hours of it happening to your account. At least once a day, set aside a time to review your receipts or transaction list and confirm that all transactions are legitimate. Utilizing your bank’s mobile app or other financial apps that monitor your spending may be the best tool to help you stay on top of your account history, as you’ll be able to check in at any time. If you don’t have the time to review your account transactions daily, at least try to log in every-other day or take advantage of your bank’s account alerts — an option that most banks offer that allows you to set custom alerts whenever certain transactions go through or your account drops below a set balance.

2. Use caution when logging into your accounts. Be sure to log into your accounts using familiar devices, which are likely to be at home. While it may be tempting to check in on your accounts using your work computer or a community computer, these devices may not be as secure as your cell phone or home computer — after all, it only takes is one suspicious site for your machine to be compromised. In addition to being aware of the device you use to log into your account, you’ll also want to make sure you sign in using a secure, trusted Wi-Fi network. Even though public Wi-Fi may be convenient, it should never be used to log into your bank accounts or access any other personal information because anyone can access it — even hackers. Another helpful tool to protecting your information online is Internet security software, as these programs are designed to protect your device from keylogging, phishing and other malicious software and alert you of potentially dangerous websites before you enter the site. Read our Internet security software reviews to learn more about how these programs work.

3. Use strong passwords. While simple passwords may be easy to remember, they aren’t doing anything to protect your information. If you really want to make sure you keep your financial or personal information safe from potential thieves, you’ll need to use strong passwords, which consist of a minimum of eight characters with at least one uppercase letter, one special character and one number. Get more details by visiting our guide to creating strong passwords. Although utilizing strong passwords is essential, it’s also important to remember to change your passwords every month or so (mark it on your calendar so you remember) and never reuse passwords between sites. If you have a difficult time remembering all of your passwords, you may want to enlist the help of a password manager — something that’s included with many Internet security software programs — which encrypt and store your login information for every account in one location.

4. Be aware of where you use your debit card. If your debit card is skimmed or breached, access to your account is almost guaranteed. That’s why you should try to limit your use of your debit card to the ATM or in emergency situations. While a debit card is a great option because it allows you to use “real money,” in terms of safety, a credit card may be your best bet, as you have more protection in the event of fraud, according to the FTC. See more ways opting for credit over debit can be beneficial by reading this blog post.

Keep up with our identity theft protection blog to learn more ways to protect your personal and financial information from fraud.