Avoid Online Pickpocketing
Have you ever been browsing the web and been attacked by the flashing popups demanding you “claim your prize” or insisting that you are the “lucky 100,000th visitor?” But when you click the link, you are redirected to a spam site with junky pictures and more popups requesting your zip code and other information. What a rip-off. There go your plans for getting rich quick or winning that iPad giveaway. June is National Internet Safety Month and all internet users are being advised and reminded to ensure their safety online with some basic practices to protect your important information.
What’s at Stake?
There are four primary categories of information that are most important to internet users: Social Security, banking, social networking, and career or work related info. These categories often coincide and interrelate, which is why it is vitally important to protect all four of them to close any possible back doors to the other categories.
- Social Security: This is your most important personal identification number and should be protected at all costs. Whitman.edu outlines the importance of a Social Security Number (SSN) as being necessary in order to obtain other documents such as a driver’s license, employment, and banking. The SSN is one of the primary means of identification for taxes, credit history, payroll processing, and in case of Student Identification. Should someone obtain your SSN, they would effectively be given the key to unlocking many doors leading to identity theft.
- Banking: This kind of data includes your account number, routing number, pin number, account password, and even your zip-code. “Smishing” is a term recently coined to describe a new con to obtain banking info by mobile phone alerts. USA Today reports that smishing is on the rise as the scammers have quickly learned how effective mobile alerts are at getting people to compromise their pin, account, and Social Security numbers. If you receive a call “from your bank,” do not return the phone call directly. Instead, call the number provided on your card and check if there are any flags on your account. They can verify the legitimacy of the warning and confirm whether or not you were the victim of a smishing scam.
- Social networking: Although not directly linked to your finances, social media content can be just as dangerous to lose. Criminals can view public information on your social network site to cyberstalk you and figure out where you live or work. Privacyrights.org lists a few techniques used to collect your personal information. These include third-party applications that request your personal data, appearing as harmless games or quizzes. False friendship requests are another outlet for collecting your private info as scammers will pose as real people to gain further access to your account that would otherwise be hidden from the general public.
- Career/work: Accounts listing your work history or contact information are slightly less dangerous than the categories listed above, but the higher risk is associated with job hunters. When completing an application or sending your resume to a company, do not list your SSN or contact information without first verifying that the company is legitimate. As a general rule of thumb, the more information you put on the web about yourself, the more susceptible you are to identity theft.
There are several ways to protect your personal information from being obtained online and your computer from being compromised.
AVG scanner and Norton Antivirus are some of the top rated antivirus software programs available for protecting your computer and are available in restricted free downloads, or full-package deals for less than $40. These programs protect your computer from foreign applications accessing your data and alert you of suspicious data on your computer.
Internet filters will greatly reduce the risk associated with children or unsupervised users browsing the web and unintentionally running across harmful content. Net Nanny is the No. 1 rated filter followed by McAfee.
Tracking Software allows you to follow and monitor activity on your computer and track internet usage as well. With programs like Time Machine for macs, you can actually revert to a saved copy of your hard-drive if you get a virus.
In addition to software safeguards, practicing safe online habits will further bolster your security. Changing your password every so often will dramatically reduce the possibility that outsiders can access your secure online content. Monitoring your bank activity on a regular basis will keep you aware of transactions and you’ll know immediately if someone has breached your account. Always check twice before giving out your information to sites or organizations that claim to be legitimate. As far as online safety is concerned, a little common sense goes a long way.