It's wise to be cautious, but telephone banking is legitimate
Q: We received a letter from our bank that asked us to call a toll-free number if we had any questions concerning our account.
I called and a recording welcomed me to "telephone banking" and asked for my account number. The recording did not identify an association with my bank, so I hung up immediately without giving my account information.
I contacted two branches and both gave the same advice: I must use the toll-free number to gain any account information.
My concern is that anyone could set up such a phone system to simply solicit bank account numbers from people who are not aware of the hazards of giving out such data over the phone with identification.
Will you please look into this and let me know if you determine the message is a fair solicitation?
A: The number provided to you by your bank appears to be legitimate. The number is also provided as the contact number for banking questions on the bank's Web site. Although this number is safe, you are smart to be cautious because you never know when a scammer might be on the other end of the line.
Telephone banking, like online banking, is a widely used amenity banks present to the customer for convenience, but many consumers still feel insecure about giving account information.
It's a pretty reliable rule of thumb that if you phone the institution, be it a bank, credit card company or your favorite retailer, it's safe to give out your account information.
Conversely, if you've received a solicitation by phone or e-mail and you're asked to provide or "confirm" your account information, the Federal Trade Commission recommends you hang up or delete the e-mail.
Most larger banks in the United States seem to have security in place to protect you from identity theft, but new technology is always being developed. Bank Technology News, a media outlet that publishes a monthly information technology-related paper, reported a new technology that could bring account security to the next level.
Voice biometrics is a system that would allow consumers to be identified solely by their voice qualities, which can't be stolen or easily imitated.
This new technology is a great sign that we're moving forward in the fight against identity theft, but it's not widely used yet, and we need to protect ourselves now.
Folks can be even more at risk for identity theft during a down economy, according to the Identity Theft Resource Center in San Diego. In its recent predictions of 2009's top risks, the center noted that some businesses will be lowering IT security as a result of financial strains, making it easier for hackers to get your information.
Protect yourself by viewing personal account documents regularly. The sooner you detect any irregularities, the sooner you can deal with them.
Review your credit report at least once a year to make sure no new accounts have been opened in your name. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only authorized source to get your free annual credit report under federal law.
For more of the top identity theft risks of 2009 and other banking security facts, visit www.bankinfosecurity.com.