Article Summary:

  • Understanding common hacking scams can help you avoid falling victim to them.
  • Strong password practices serve as a foundation for bank account security. 
  • Keep your electronic devices up to date, use care when using public Wi-Fi, and avoid potentially suspicious ATMs.
  • Regularly monitor your account activity and consider spreading your funds across multiple accounts for added protection.
  • If you believe your account is compromised, contact your bank immediately, change your passwords, and consider filing a police report.

Imagine logging into your bank account and realizing you've been a victim of hacking or fraud. Whether you notice a few unauthorized charges or discover your balance has been completely drained, that sinking feeling is the same. The experience can leave you feeling violated, helpless, and unsure of what to do next.

Cybercriminals are constantly finding new ways to exploit vulnerabilities and steal sensitive information. From phishing scams to malware attacks, the risks are real, and the consequences are often severe.

The impact of a hacked account goes beyond financial loss — there’s also the stress and lost time caused by dealing with bounced checks, late payments, and the hassle of closing your account and opening a new one. In some cases, it can take months or even years to fully recover from the fallout. The good news is that knowing how to protect your bank account can help reduce the risk of becoming a victim.

In the following guide, we’ll walk through seven strategies to consider for securing your account so you can protect your assets and stay a step ahead of fraudsters.

1. Understand Common Hacking Scams

Learning how to secure your bank account from hackers begins with understanding how they operate. Watch out for these common scams:

  • Phishing: Fraudulent emails, texts, or calls that appear to be from your bank, asking you to provide sensitive information. These messages often create a sense of urgency or fear, such as threatening to close the account if you do not immediately log in and verify information. 
  • Malware attacks: Malicious software designed to infiltrate your device and steal sensitive data, including login credentials for your bank account. Malware can be installed through infected email attachments, compromised websites, or pirated software.
  • Brute force attacks: Automated tools used by hackers to guess your login credentials by trying multiple combinations of usernames and passwords until they land on the right ones. Using weak, easily guessable passwords increases vulnerability to brute force attacks.
  • Skimming devices: Malicious card readers attached to ATMs or point-of-sale machines can capture your card information when you insert or swipe it, using it to commit fraud.

2. Follow Strong Password Practices

Your password is the first line of defense against unauthorized access to your bank account. Always create strong, unique passwords that are difficult for hackers to guess or crack. Consider the following best practices:

  • Use a combination of uppercase and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Make your password at least 12 characters long — the longer, the better.
  • Avoid using personal information, such as your name, birthdate, address, or pet’s name.
  • Don't use common words or phrases that can be easily guessed.
  • Create a unique password for each of your online accounts.
  • Update your passwords regularly.

Creating long, complex passwords makes brute-force attacks more difficult. Using a unique password for each account also prevents hackers from accessing multiple accounts with a single hacked password.

Consider a Password Manager for Enhanced Security

With so many online accounts requiring passwords, creating and remembering unique, strong passwords for each one can be challenging. A password manager is a software tool that generates, encrypts, stores, and manages passwords.

A password manager requires a single master password to access all accounts, helping you choose strong passwords without the challenge of remembering them. When choosing a password manager, look for a provider that offers strong encryption, two-factor authentication, and a solid reputation for security.

Take Advantage of Multi-Factor and Two-Factor Authentication

Multi-factor authentication (MFA) and two-factor authentication (2FA) secure your account by requiring additional information beyond a password, such as a code sent to your mobile phone or a fingerprint scan. This additional sign-on security makes it harder for hackers to access your account, even if they manage to obtain your password. If your bank offers MFA or 2FA as an optional security feature, consider enabling it on your account. You'll typically find this option inside the account settings.

3. Protect Your PIN

Your personal identification number (PIN) serves as a password for accessing your bank account through ATMs or debit card transactions. To protect your account, never share your PIN with anyone, including friends, family members, or bank employees. Memorize your PIN and avoid writing it down or storing it on your phone or computer.

Avoid using easily guessable numbers, such as your birthday, address, or phone number, and change your PIN regularly. When entering your PIN, cover the keypad to prevent others from seeing it, and avoid using the same PIN for multiple accounts.

4. Safeguard Your Banking Devices

The convenience and accessibility offered by online and mobile banking have made smartphones, tablets, and computers an integral part of the banking experience. However, they can also pose security risks. Using the following built-in security features can help protect your sensitive information:

  • Enable device encryption: Encryption converts your data into an unreadable format that can only be accessed with a unique key or password. Enabling encryption on your device helps prevent your sensitive information, including banking details, from being read by unauthorized parties, even if your device is lost or stolen.
  • Use a strong device passcode: Set up your phone screen to lock when not in use, and create a strong passcode to unlock it. Avoid simple or easily guessable codes like “1234” or “0000." If possible, use a combination of letters, numbers, and special characters.
  • Enable remote wiping: Remote wiping allows you to erase data on the device remotely if it is lost or stolen. This can prevent unauthorized access to your account, even if your devices fall into the wrong hands. 
  • Use biometric authentication: Many modern devices offer biometric authentication options, such as fingerprint scanning or facial recognition. Since your unique physical characteristics are difficult to replicate or steal, biometrics are more secure than a traditional password.
  • Install ad blockers: Ad blockers can help protect your devices from ads that contain malicious scripts, which can infect them with malware.

Regularly Update Your Banking Apps and Device Software

Software updates often include security patches that fix known vulnerabilities and protect against the latest threats. Regularly check the app store for updates and install them as soon as they become available. Also, avoid using older, unsupported devices, which may be vulnerable to more security threats. Consider upgrading to a newer model if your device no longer receives software updates.

5. Be Careful with Public Wi-Fi and Out-of-Network ATMs

Accessing Wi-Fi networks in cafes, airports, or hotels can create a significant security risk, particularly when logging into your bank accounts. Public Wi-Fi networks are often unsecured, allowing anyone on the same network to intercept your data.

Avoid accessing online or mobile banking whenever possible until you’re on a secure, private network. Also, keep in mind that hackers sometimes create fake Wi-Fi networks with names similar to legitimate ones. Before connecting, verify the name with the establishment to ensure you’re using the correct network. You may also want to consider using a virtual private network (VPN) as an additional safeguard.

When visiting ATMs, remember that some are more susceptible to skimming devices or other fraudulent activities than others. Choose machines in your bank’s network and avoid ATMs in isolated or unfamiliar areas when possible. Before inserting your card, examine the ATM for any sign of tampering, such as loose or misaligned parts, scratches, or adhesive residue. If anything looks suspicious, avoid using the machine and report it to the bank. You may also consider looking for ATMs with additional security features, such as mirrors or cameras, that can help you monitor your environment.

6. Regularly Monitor Your Bank Activity

Regularly monitoring your bank transactions can help you quickly identify suspicious or fraudulent activity, allowing you to take immediate action to minimize potential damage. Make it a habit to review your bank statements monthly and check your online banking once a week.

During the review, check for unfamiliar transactions, which can be signs of fraud or unauthorized access to your account. Also, review recurring payments to ensure you’re not paying for services you no longer use or didn’t authorize. If you notice anything suspicious, contact your bank immediately to report the issue.

Set Up Account Alerts for Immediate Notifications

Many banks offer account alerts to notify you of certain activities in real-time via email, text message, or through your bank's mobile app. Setting up these alerts lets you stay informed about your account activity and quickly detect potential fraud. Consider signing up for: 

  • Transaction alerts: Receive notifications for transactions above a certain amount, international transactions, or transactions made without your physical card.
  • Login alerts: Get notified when someone logs into your account from a new device or location.
  • Balance alerts: Receive notifications when your account balance falls below a certain threshold or for large withdrawals.
  • Password change alerts: Receive notifications of password changes.

7. Open Multiple Accounts

Keeping all your money in a single account can increase vulnerability to financial losses. If a hacker gains access to the account or the card information is stolen, all your funds are at risk. Spreading your money across multiple accounts can potentially limit the potential damage of a security breach.

Having multiple accounts can also help you better manage finances by separating funds based on their purpose. For example, you might have one account for everyday expenses, another for your emergency fund, and a third for long-term investments. This separation makes it easier to track spending, stick to your budget, and work towards specific financial goals.

What to Do If You Spot Suspicious or Fraudulent Activity

Despite best efforts to protect your bank account, fraud or unauthorized activity is still possible. If you suspect an account has been compromised, acting quickly can minimize potential damage and help secure your funds. If you notice suspicious account activity, consider these steps:

  • Contact the bank immediately: Most banks have dedicated phone numbers for reporting fraud. You can typically find the number on the back of the debit or credit card or the bank's website. Inform the representative of the unauthorized transactions and ask them to freeze or close your account to prevent further losses.
  • Change your login credentials: Immediately choose a new, strong, unique password you haven't used for other accounts. If your bank offers two-factor authentication and biometrics, enable these features for an extra layer of security.
  • Review your recent transactions: Go through your recent account activity and identify any transactions you don't recognize. List these transactions, including the date, amount, and merchant name. You’ll need this information if you are filing a dispute with your bank.
  • File a police report: If you've experienced significant financial loss due to fraud, consider filing a police report. This document may be required for certain types of fraud investigations.
  • Consider placing a fraud alert on your credit report: Contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion) and request a fraud alert on your credit report. This notifies potential creditors that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before granting credit in your name, helping to prevent further fraudulent activity.

Proactively Safeguard Your Financial Accounts

Taking proactive steps to safeguard your bank accounts can minimize the risk of unauthorized access and empower you to act quickly if fraud occurs.

To help keep your funds safe and secure, regularly update your security measures and stay informed about key threats.

Follow PNC Bank’s Security Center for important updates regarding the latest scams and tips to avoid them.