A few years ago I had my identity stolen through an online scam. Now I do not consider myself an unsophisticated Internet user, and I usually have virus software protection installed and on. The event was my own fault. I was traveling at the time, and was having a terrible time with sleep, going through time zones all over the world.
When I finally landed at a friend’s home in Belize for a month, he suggested that I order some medication from an online pharmacy for my sleep troubles. While he had not done this himself, he knew several people who had with no problem.
I got online and placed my order – how easy. Perhaps I should have been suspicious when they would not accept PayPal. I had to use a major credit card. Foolishly, I did.
It took me close to three years to clean up the mess. It was easy to cancel the credit card I had used to make the purchase and to protest the additional purchases made with it. What was not so easy was erasing the false identity that had been set up – an identity that was used to obtain additional credit cards, which I knew nothing about until my roommate began to get calls on our landline back in France. Out there, in cyberspace, another “me” existed, and getting rid of that ghost was a horrible ordeal.
As much as we hear about cybercrime these days, and as many warning as are given, we do become complacent; we think it will never happen to us; or we forget even the most basic prevention tactics we know we should be using. Until it happened. The figures on cybercrime are pretty astounding, and there is just no room for complacency.
Review These Basics
Here is a list of basic preventive measures you need to remember.
1. Update Logins and Passwords
It’s a pain for sure. But understand that hackers are sophisticated and their tactics are continually evolving. They have managed to breach the U.S. State Department and the IRS servers, and, even though there were security issues in those systems, they certainly were more secure than yours is right now.
Change out those login details at least once a month. And here is another critical tip: Do not use the same login and password for all of your banking and other financial accounts. Each one must be unique, so that if one is breached, the others may not be.
2. Activate Firewall Settings
Most newer computers will have firewalls built in. Be certain they are activated. If you don’t have a built-in firewall, get a software package and install one. Anti-virus software will also be helpful. It will help prevent viruses and malware, as well as Trojans that steal your personal information. My anti-virus software subscription had expired when I went online to purchase that medication. I have since renewed my subscription and have experimented a bit with these online pharmacies. That software now warns me before I access many of those sites.
3. Be Smart on Social Media
This is something we tell kids all of the time – never, never, never share personal information on any social media platform. But it goes deeper than this.
- When setting up your profile page on Facebook, for example, you are asked for your birthday. Never give the date with the year. Now someone has your name and the year of your birth – not smart.
- Check all security settings and be certain they are set to “private.”
- Sometimes we take risks that we tell kids not to take.
4. Use the Security Features on Your Mobile Devices
Go through the last couple of weeks in your head. How many times did you set your phone down in a public place? Pickpockets are not just after purses and wallets anymore. Phones are just as valuable because they can contain financial information, password storage, pin numbers and more. There is such an easy fix for this. Activate the security features that are already built into your phone, so that others cannot access your personal or financial information.
And these security features are pretty good. Right now, the FBI is trying to break the security code on a phone owned by one of the terrorists in the San Bernadino killings and has not been able to do it. They are now seeking a court injunction ordering Apple to unlock that security in that phone.
5. Learn How to Use Encryption
If you store sensitive stuff on your computer (tax returns, financial records, etc.), you need to do two things:
- Make backups and store them somewhere else
- Learn how to encrypt those files
6. Public Wi-Fi – Need I Say More?
Never, never, never access any financial accounts on a public setting. And never access files on your computer that contain any personal or confidential information. You already know better, right?
7. Be Careful with eCommerce
I have a new rule. If an online retailer will not take PayPal, they don’t get my business. Why? Because the retailer gets no information other than my name and shipping address. When I pay through PayPal, I am transferred to its site to complete my transaction. And, as soon as a transaction is completed through PayPal, I get an immediate email notification from them that the transaction has been made. Your bank and your credit card companies will not do this.
Here’s another rule. Stick to retailers you know. Those security emblems that are on retail sites can be faked. There is almost nothing that you cannot get from big box or reputable retailers today.
8. There’s Always a New Scam
We all know about the Nigerians who have to get money out of the country and who are willing to share with you if you will just help. Or the lottery win from some overseas organization that picked your email randomly. You just have to send $400 for processing your winnings and transferring them to your bank.
Scammers are always coming up with new scenarios, and some are pretty ingenious. The only rule you need here is never to send money to someone you don’t know. And if I receive an email from someone I don’t know, I may open it, but I never access any link or download they give me – NEVER. That’s how they get in. Keep up on the latest scams.
Don’t open emails from the IRS or the FBI or even from your local police department – they don’t communicate via email.
9. Shut Down Your Computer When Not in Use
This may be one of our biggest failings. We’re connected wirelessly through high speed and we just set out tablet or laptop down and figure it will go into sleep mode. Or we put it in sleep mode to save battery use. But it is still connected and that is an open invitation to hackers. Why give them an opportunity when you don’t have to?