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Paying bills online--safely
Here are six tips on how to best protect yourself and your money.

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This year, for the first time, consumers in households with Internet access are paying more bills online than by check--39 percent electronic vs. 34 percent paper, according to a survey conducted by Harris Inter≠active and The Marketing Workshop. If youíre already paying online or are thinking about it, hereís how to best protect yourself and your money:

  • Try to pay bills online through the bank where you have a checking account, rather than through a third-party bill-paying service or directly at the billerís Web site. That reduces the number of entities that can lose your financial information to hackers or thieves, or through carelessness. At most big banks, on≠line bill-paying is free.

  • Use a bank that guarantees to pay any hefty credit-card late fees if the bank fails to send your monthly payment to the card issuer by the designated date. (Check the fine print to see when the transfer will actually be made.)

  • Create a fraud-resistant password for online bill-paying and banking. Use at least eight characters, including numbers, upper- and lower-case letters, and symbols. Avoid words and codes easily linked to you, such as your name or birth date.

  • Review the monthly statements of your electronic ac≠count transactions. Under federal law, you have 60 days to report unauthorized activity, but itís best to report any problems immediately.

  • Donít leave your computer unattended while youíre conducting banking business. If you have to step away, sign off, close your browser to clear cached copies of banking pages, and delete any temporary files.

  • Donít click on Web links embedded in any e-mail request for information about your online banking activity. Those links could lead to fraudulent sites designed to collect personal and account data. Respond to such requests by contacting the bank directly.

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