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Could online hackers steal your cash?

"It is based on whether the customer's conduct with respect to security was reasonable," he says. In that case the court will ultimately determine who was more at fault for the breach -- the bank or the consumer.

Business accounts

Business accounts are the most vulnerable to hacker attacks and the least protected by the law. Hackers are much more inclined to break into a six-figure business account than a consumer account with a few thousand dollars, Sullivan says.

"There are hundreds of cases of thefts of money from small business deposit accounts each year," Johnson says.

Business accounts are regulated by the Uniform Commercial Code, or UCC, which requires banks to maintain "commercial reasonable authentication security procedures," in any kind of wire transfer, he says.

"If the bank can show the breach was caused by something the customer did the bank is not liable," Johnson says.

California attorney Nada Alnajafi says most small businesses don't understand the risk they are taking when they use wire-transfer accounts.

"I don't think a lot of them understand they are taking almost full risk for any potential issues," she says.

She is representing a small Los Angeles business owner who lost $50,000 after a hacker committed a fraudulent transfer from his Bank of America account to a Croatian Bank. She filed a lawsuit on behalf of her client against Bank of America in February because the bank refused to take responsibility for the theft, she says.

Bank of America claims it is not liable for the illicit transfer. The lawsuit is pending.

How to help protect your account

  • Don't access your account from a shared computer.
  • Be certain your computer has anti-virus, firewall and anti-spyware programs, including security software with automatic updates.
  • If you are using wireless service, check the settings on your computer to make sure the connection is encrypted. Don't connect to your account using a public network, like the ones you find at a coffee shop or at the airport.
  • Review your statements regularly and carefully, and report any suspicious activity to your bank immediately.
  • Use a strong password with letters and numbers combined. Don't use the same password for multiple accounts.
  • Log out after every session.

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