Like a number of you, I regularly get official looking emails asking me to verify my user name and password details by clicking a link which takes me to a site that looks something like my bank’s actual site. In today’s cyber-age these type of scams and phishing emails are growing and unfortunately new victims are found every day. However there are a number of easy and cost effective ways you can protect your credit and financial information if you transact over the Internet. This includes:
1. Keep your computer secure and the access to it. Make sure you have virus protection software that you update regularly. If you drive around with your laptop don’t leave in the car when parking at public places as these hot spots targeted by car thieves. My laptop was stolen once this way and was found to be selling on ebay just 2 days later (serial number identified this). It may be a hassle, but carry it with you.
2. Check your credit card and bank accounts regularly (at least once a week) and report discrepancies to your issuer immediately;
3. Reject any email that asks you to follow a link to website and input account details for verification – even if the website looks authentic, its probably a fake replica “phishing” for personal financial information. A lot of these are going around lately and scam artists keep changing the bank logo’s on their emails but the basic premise to get your financial information is always the same. Fortunately most of these emails go straight to the junk email folder, but some malicious ones (like the recent IRS stimulus email scam) do get through to your inbox.
4. Only make payments to secure websites – look for the padlock symbol in the bottom-right of your browser and click for details. Secure sites should also have the prefix “https://….”, with the “s” indicating a secure site.
5. Make sure you log out of your on-line account when finished – especially at work, libraries and net cafes. Delete “Cookies” – data that stores your information on computers – on a regular basis.
6. If using a new site, don’t start with large value transactions; Also try and keep a separate card for internet purchases with a lower credit limit.
7. No matter what don’t send credit card, bank or personal financial details (like your social security number) by e-mail; Reputable financial institutions will not ask for your personal information via email or to verify it via a website.
8. Ignore the “remember my password option” on banking and shopping sites. Also don’t store your credit information at on-line sites – if these sites get compromised, so do you.
9. Change your password regularly and pick something that is not related to your name/birthday. A good idea is to pick a unique phrase with numbers you would remember and in the middle add in the website name you are creating a password for. This way you generate a unique password for every site. For example – your unique phrase is the make of your first car and the year you bought it – Toyota94. If you use ebay, the password would be “Toyotaebay94″. These are considered “strong” passwords according to password verification software. Even better add a symbol (! or #) at the beginning or end if you can remember it.