Be on guard against Internet thieves

January 19, 2009

by Mark Ollig

Gaining access to your personal and financial information has evolved beyond simply searching through thrown away paper documents.

Today’s Internet scammers are trying hard to access our personal, credit card, and other financial information.

The threat today is much greater than some of us “earlier generation” online users could ever have imagined.

Sure, it’s convenient using the Internet for purchasing items from the comfort of our homes or whereever we have a wireless connection.

The backside, however, is the Internet — and the obscurity it offers — is also the door through which online scammers and thieves can access our valuable personal information – unless we take certain measures to protect it.

By taking precautions to protect our identity, we can minimize the chance of a disaster.

We need to be “on guard when online” in order to protect our personal information, and the information stored in our computers.

One of the ways to be more secure online is to adopt some online safety practices.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are millions of victims each year.

If you’re asked for your personal information like your name, e-mail, home address, phone number, credit card, or Social Security number, first – before you disclose it – find out how it’s going to be used and second, how it will be protected.

If you have children who are into online social networking, instruct them to not give out your last name, your home address, or your phone number over the Internet.

If you get an e-mail or pop-up message asking for personal information, don’t reply or click on the link in the message, unless you know for certain it is from a trusted source.

If you believe there may be a legitimate need for information requested by a company with whom you have an account or placed an order, contact the company directly in a way you know to be valid, like using their telephone number.

It is important to remember, in any case, to be cautious if you need to send your personal information via e-mail, because e-mail, unless it’s encrypted, is not a secure transmission method.

If you are shopping online, don’t provide your personal or financial information through a company’s web site until you have checked for indicators that the site is secure. Such indicators may include a “lock icon” on your browser’s status bar (yes, it looks like a picture of a lock) or web site page address which begin with “https:” (the “s” stands for “secure”).

Legitimate online businesses want you to see these secure locks and indicators so you are aware they have made every effort to make their site safe for you to shop on.

Most business web site security identification is generally located where we, as customers, can easily see it.

If you’re shopping on a new online web site, it just makes sense to check out the seller first before you buy.

A legitimate online business or individual seller should be able to give you their location address and a telephone number where they can be contacted.

If everything looks good, and the company has provided a safe means of communicating your sensitive information – which you have confirmed – the web page can be considered “secure.”

Here is an e-mail message you should always be suspicious of: “We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”

This message is most likely from “phishers” who are “phishing.”

The online urban dictionary, (www.urbandictionary.com) explains phishing and phishers as “an attempt to fraudulently acquire sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, and credit card details, by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication.”

If you suspect phishing e-mails you can forward them to: spam@uce.gov and to the business, financial institution, or organization impersonated in the phishing e-mail.

You may also report phishing e-mail to reportphishing@antiphishing.org.

The Anti-Phishing Working Group is a consortium of Internet Service Providers (ISPs), security vendors, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies, which use these reports to combat phishing.

In the event you suspect your identity may have been compromised or stolen, visit the FTC’s “Identity Theft” web site at ftc.gov/idtheft for more information.

For more information on safeguarding your online information, visit the US government web site at http://www.onguardonline.gov.

It’s 2009, so we need to be on guard when we’re online.