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Osakis Voices: Keep your checking account safe

Justin Dahlheimer

Scams and fraud have never been more threatening to your everyday life. It is important to keep your main checking account void of any connections to higher-risk areas, such as debit cards, online shopping, or connections to third party vendors such as Paypal, Venmo, etc.

With the more auto deposits, auto withdrawals and the amount of connections we run through our main checking account, if an incident of fraud occurs, it can be time-consuming and stressful to close accounts and reopen a new one.

Set up a separate checking account that you use for the higher-risk internet/debit card transactions, but only transfer the funds into the account necessary to make your transactions. There is very little cost to having multiple accounts, and with mobile banking, it's simple to transfer funds when needed. Now, if there's ever a worry that your account information has been compromised, peace of mind is as simple as closing that account and opening a new one. This leaves your main account — financial home base — still safe and free of the stress that comes changing that account and updating all the types of transactions we put through our main account.

Here are some tips to help keep fraud at bay.

• Look for the lock or HTTPS symbol when entering your payment information in any browser. This means the security certificate is in place to ensure secure transmission of information between the website and yourself. If a website does not have this level of encryption, it is not safe to submit your payment information.

• Always check for "skimmers" when using a debit card at the gas pump or ATM. These devices are normally fixed to the card swipe mechanism, tug on the plastic housing to make sure no device is sitting in it.

• Refrain from ever emailing or messaging account numbers to people or filling out forms and scanning and emailing them without first encrypting that email message or uploading into a secure, encrypted portal.

• Many scams involve someone giving something to you and requesting you deposit it and send them money. If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. The fraudster ends up with funds, and you end up liable for the bad check.

• Another common scam is letting someone online maintenance your computer, and they will lock you out of it or steal your information, demanding ransom of some amount. If you need computer maintenance, you'd be better off taking it to a person with a reputable business. There are certainly many reasons you want to keep your computer's security updates current, so take the time to learn from a friend, family member, or a reputable business on how to do that yourself.

• Purchase items from reputable websites of businesses you know, or can ask people you know, about. Many websites advertise very low prices as a front to scam you into stealing your payment information. Many reviews on websites are also fraudulent can offer false confidence.

Finally, the most important form of defense from fraud is banking with people who know you. Keeping your accounts in one place, and with a locally-owned and managed bank, allows closer attention and quicker action in those instances where your information may have been compromised.

Osakis Voices is a rotating column written by community leaders who share their thoughts in their field of expertise.