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Safe Online

How to make paying bills, easy, safe and eco-friendly

May 12, 2011
By Scott Westcott
Online banking

Getting the mail these days can be considerably less painful than it used to be. For many folks, gone are the stacks of bills that cluttered desks and countertops with reams of paper. Those pesky bills still have to be paid; it’s just they “arrive” electronically — saving time, money and the environment.
An estimated eight out of 10 American households now use online banking, and a growing number are tapping mobile phones to pay bills and monitor accounts. It’s an eco-friendly movement. According to PayItGreen, a nonprofit organization that helps promote online payments, paper checks account for the use of 674 million gallons of fuel and the release of more than 3.6 million tons of greenhouse gases into the environment.

By switching to paperless payments, the average American household each year could save 6.6 pounds of paper and avoid producing 171 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions (the equivalent of not driving 169 miles) and avoid releasing 63 gallons of wastewater into the environment.

Beyond the environmental benefits and convenience, online payments have evolved to the point that users can better track transactions and activity. While consumers often worry about online security, moving to online or paperless payments can actually be beneficial in detecting fraud.

“One advantage of online payments is the ability to monitor money with greater frequency and real-time accuracy,” explains Mark Schwanhausser, senior analyst with Javelin Strategy and Research, a research firm specializing in online banking trends. “You’re able to review your accounts and transactions in a timely fashion, as opposed to waiting for a statement in the mailbox weeks from now.”

Many bank accounts now include mobile alerts that notify the account-holder of any activity, and Schwanhausser says some credit card companies will soon offer services that send an alert to your phone immediately when any purchase is made.

“The whole direction is toward people having remote control of their finances,” Schwanhausser says.

Online payments aren’t foolproof — but anymore, neither are paper ones, Schwanhausser notes. “Identity theft and fraud can occur no matter how you pay your bills.”

To keep yourself safe, experts recommend carefully reading about security measures when banking online, using a personal computer instead of one at a library or cyber café and checking for the “s” in https at the beginning of a Web address to make sure it is secure. Also, do not put your accounts into your favorites, as hackers have an easier time accessing information stored there.

For added peace of mind, consider purchasing Identity Recovery coverage—a low-cost endorsement that your ERIE Agent can help you add to your ERIE homeowners or mobile homeowners policy. With the endorsement, ERIE helps manage the multitude of red tape that may be involved in restoring your credit and good name in the event of fraud or identity theft.

Scott Westcott is an award-winning journalist and freelance writer whose work has appeared in Parents, Inc., and Woman’s Day. He resides in Erie, Pa.

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