E-mail scams and phishing websites try to steal your personal information for their benefit. This could mean trying to use your credit card numbers for fraudulent purchases or selling your personal information to companies. Some scams are easy to spot, like the Prince of Nigeria personally e-mailing you to let you know you have inherited 21 million USD, and this money is all yours for a processing fee of 15,000 USD). Others like a realistic looking e-mail from the IRS inviting you to take a customer satisfaction survey are a little harder to catch. So what can you do to protect your identity and personal information?
The US Department of Homeland Security offers these security tips:
- Be suspicious of unsolicited phone calls, visits, or email messages from individuals asking about employees or other internal information. If an unknown individual claims to be from a legitimate organization, try to verify his or her identity directly with the company.
- Do not provide personal information or information about your organization, including its structure or networks, unless you are certain of a person's authority to have the information.
- Pay attention to the URL of a website. Malicious websites may look identical to a legitimate site, but the URL may use a variation in spelling or a different domain (e.g., .com vs. .net). (For example irs.gov is the correct website, irs.com is not.)
- If you are unsure whether an email request is legitimate, try to verify it by contacting the company directly. Do not use contact information provided on a website connected to the request; instead, check previous statements for contact information. Information about known phishing attacks is also available online from groups such as the Anti-Phishing Working Group (http://www.antiphishing.org/).
- Install and maintain anti-virus software, firewalls, and email filters to reduce some of this traffic.
- Take advantage of any anti-phishing features offered by your email client and web browser.
These are some tips that I have used:
- Have at least two e-mail accounts, one is your normal daily use e-mail; the other is your “junk e-mail” account. When you need to provide your e-mail address for something and you are uncertain of the source you can provide your junk e-mail address. This will reduce spam in your mailbox and help protect private information.
- Use a VISA or MasterCard gift card to make purchases online when you are leery of online vendors. The gift cards are available for a small fee and usually can be purchased through local vendors and are usually refillable. This way if your account information is stolen it isn’t an actual credit card, and the only amount that can be lost is what you currently have on the gift card.
- Another more advanced tip is to use a web browsing program with built in security features. For instance Google Chrome is a free downloadable web browsing software that has more built in security then most competitors. It also boasts an “incognito” browsing feature, which means it will not save any internet history and less of your personal information, and it erases automatically when you close the window.
- If get an e-mail from an unknown address and it isn’t something important, don’t open it or mark it as spam. If you do open the e-mail don’t click on any attachments or links located in the e-mail.
- Be careful when you play online games. Though the game may be fun and free, sometimes when you download the game to you computer it installs spyware that collects information from your computer. It is easiest to play “flash games” that you don’t have to download from the internet.
- Be wary of Facebook scams. These scams can be sent directly to your Facebook account making promising of free gadgets, gift cards, or cash (don't believe it!). Or in the case of Associated Content's article some scammers are going on Facebook and getting teens personal information. They are using this information to try to scam family members out of money, by pretending to be the teen and asking for money. Make sure to double check with other family members or call the number you have for that teen to double check. The safest bet is to have your child or teen set their Facebook account to private (which means people that aren't their friends cannot see their information).
The best tip of all you probably got from your parents: “IF IT IS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS!”