Many were inconvenienced, but few customers, if any, reported serious financial harm after last week's cyber attacks that hit at least six major banks in the United States, hindering customers' access to online banking temporarily.
For an untold number of customers at the big banks in the last two weeks, including Bank of America, Wells Fargo, PNC, Chase, Citigroup and U.S. Bank, the cyber attacks made access to online banking slow at best -- and totally nonfunctional at worst. But banks say that systems are running and back to normal.
"It's business as usual" for Bank of America's 30 million online banking customers, said Mark Pipitone, a bank spokesman, on Wednesday. He added that any access problems at this point were likely related to Internet-provider connection issues or browser issues. Pipitone said the bank experienced occasional slowness around Sept. 18, but declined to provide more details.
Wells Fargo spokeswoman, Bridget Braxton said that some of the banks' 21 million customers were temporarily delayed accessing their accounts online last week, and that customers with ongoing issues should contact the bank.
The latest attacks did not affect underlying banking systems or compromise customers' funds, but they did create huge traffic jams in getting to banks' websites. That meant delays for customers paying bills or transferring money online. According to Reuters, banks had to absorb expenses stemming from the attacks and related to customer delays.
Paul Applegate, of Cincinnati, tried to log in into his PNC bank account Friday, only to be denied service for around four hours. He was never worried about the safety of his money, but said the outage was inconvenient. "It's pretty much a standard way for hackers to scare people," he told The Huffington Post.
Another PNC customer, June Jimenez of Silver Spring, Md., reported delays getting on online as recently as Wednesday morning but said it did not affect her transactions.
Even though the wave of attacks didn't impact customers' account security, it underscores the new world order that surrounds all-digital banking. Electronic and online banking is faster and more convenient, but the shift to a teller-less world has also ushered in 21st century problems like ongoing hacker attacks, zombie bank accounts, mass security breaches for credit cards and the lack of a real-live customer service representative to call for help.
As the New York Times reported, the attacks showed a real disconnect between what customers were experiencing and what banks were communicating to their customers. "It was probably the least impressive corporate presentation of bad news I've ever seen, " said small-business owner Paul Downs, in the Times.
This wave of attacks comes as banks are pushing more customers into online and ATM banking, while shuttering branches and teller-based banking.
And although PNC has systems in place to prevent disruption from hacker attacks, the volume of traffic to the site during the recent attacks was "unprecedented," PNC spokesman Fred Solomon told the New York Times.
"I just found it annoying and then alarming," Wells Fargo customer Maureen Doyle told The Huffington Post by email. "By the time I would have done something about it, [the website] worked."
1. Comparison shop
Make a list of the fees and rates at your current bank, then look at what others have. Start with our rates page, where you can compare <a href="http://www.moneytalksnews.com/rates/" target="_hplink">interest rates</a> on checking accounts, money market funds, savings accounts, mortgages, and other loans. But don't forget to factor in other conveniences, like hours and the proximity of branches. Don't overlook <a href="http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2010/09/30/7-reasons-you-should-join-a-credit-union-this-week/" target="_hplink">credit unions</a>, either. They often offer higher savings rates and lower loan rates than the megabanks. Search for them at the <a href="http://www.creditunion.coop/" target="_hplink">Credit Union Association</a> site.
2. Negotiate with your current bank
If you have a mostly happy history with your current bank, take the best offer from your comparison shopping and throw it back at them to see if they'll cut you a break on fees or hike your savings rates. As a longtime customer, you have a little leverage.
3. Get a "switch kit"
If you do decide to leave, ask your new bank or credit union for a "switch kit." These often come with step-by-step instructions, contact info, and forms to transfer services like direct deposits and automatic payments. But even so, <a href="http://defendyourdollars.org/press_release/cu-report-switching-banks-hard-for-consumers" target="_hplink">Consumers Union says</a>, "Re-routing automatic payments and deposits into a new account can take four to six weeks."
4. Don't close the old account yet
You may be in a rush to conclude business with your old bank, but it's important to make sure your transition is seamless - missing payments, misplaced deposits, or delays can end up costing you. Leave a cash cushion to cover payments you may have forgotten. Wait three months to close the account completely, or at least until you're absolutely sure all's well. If there are fees associated with transferring your balance - Consumers Union says to expect "$7 to $10 for certified checks and from $24 to $30 for a wire transfer" - you might skirt them by moving money gradually, withdrawing up to allowed limits and depositing the cash to the new account. Using cash more frequently than plastic can also help.
5. Watch the new account
Keep a keen eye on your new account, checking it daily for the first few weeks. Be sure all your regular deposits are coming in and all your bills are being paid from the proper account. You also want to get familiar with your new bank's quirks, like how long deposits take to clear and how it lists your balances and transactions, to avoid trouble.
Make sure you go over all the paperwork relevant to your new account, so you don't get tripped up by processes that differ from your old bank, hidden fees, or upcoming changes. And keep a list of these, since you may want to re-evaluate your new bank sooner rather than later - especially if the government actually does make it easier to switch. Beware of switching again too soon: Consumer Reports says several banks charge $25 fees for closing within the first six months.
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