The cost of convenience

The cost of convenience

Moving online makes life easier but is increasingly fraught with danger

I had to go to the bank recently for the first time in months and, although it was the day before a public holiday, I was still amazed to see how many people were queuing up to talk to a teller. It felt like I'd stepped into a time warp.

For me, and I'm sure many of you, technology has made banking a largely remote experience - periodical bills like my mobile phone are paid by direct debit, if I need cash then I draw it from an ATM without the need for human interaction, transfers between different accounts and credit cards are done online when it suits me, and my statements are delivered electronically so they don't have to be printed. What could be easier or more convenient?

Waiting in physical queues or even on the phone (your call is important to us, you have progressed in the queue, and while you wait I'm going to try and sell you something or make you listen to a musical loop specially selected to drive you nuts) is an experience I'm happy to do without as often as possible.

But it can be a little unnerving when you think about how reliant you are on the various systems that have been put in place to help you conduct these remote transactions - especially when you consider the possible consequences if something goes wrong.

I received a letter in the mail recently from my credit card company requesting that I contact them urgently because they had received information that my account details may have been compromised. On dialling the number, I was pleasantly surprised when quickly connected to a human voice within seconds (without having to listen to any Beethoven or Tina Turner) and was told they were querying two overseas payments I had made which, for the record, were genuine.

Anyway, my card had been cancelled and I had to contact all the companies that take scheduled payments from it to let them know that the reissued card had a different number. This was obviously inconvenient but hardly the end of the world.

However, when I questioned the customer service rep, she told me I wasn't alone and hundreds of cards had been compromised. I asked if records had been lost but she feigned ignorance or genuinely didn't know and told me investigations were continuing.

Either way, the point is that organised cybercrime is a fact of modern day life and, as schemes to extract money fraudulently become more sophisticated, knowing who or what you can trust online gets more difficult by the day. Sites that millions of us visit every day are the ones most likely to be attacked, because that's where there's most money to be made, and gone are the days of poorly designed imitations riddled with spelling mistakes.

Of course, it will be a little while yet before the avatar serving as a bank teller is a cyber-nasty... so maybe those people I saw queuing up are onto something.

Brian Corrigan is the editorial director of ARN.

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