Boo! The Internet Can be Scary – Tips for Staying Safe Online
Halloween is upon us, and it’s not just ghosts and goblins that can strike fear into your heart. Internet scammers and criminals, are trying to steal your personal information and your cash by preying on unsuspecting Internet users.
We are all at risk—even the savviest technology user can fall victim due to creative phishing emails and targeted and personalized messaging. So how do you protect yourself? Here are some easy precautions you can take to protect yourself and your family from those thieving Internet goblins.
- Stay up to date. The best defense against online threats is making sure you have installed the newest updates to your security software, web browsers and email applications. Performing these updates will add new features, remove outdated features, deliver fixes for glitches and bugs, and most importantly, fix security holes that have been discovered. Most software programs will automatically connect to your computer or device and install updates once they are available. To be sure you’re receiving all updates, check the settings for each program you use and make sure automatic updates is turned on.
- When in doubt, don’t click. Links in email, tweets, posts and online advertising are often how cybercriminals invade your computer. If something looks suspicious, it’s best to not click on it. Telltale signs something isn’t legitimate
- Bad spelling and grammar
- Language urging you to “Verify” your personal information, email address, Twitter account, etc.
- ANY Hyperlinks in email messages
- Threats that something bad will happen if you don’t respond to the email message
- Offers of something that seems to good to be true
- Offers of free gifts, prizes or vacations, or exclaim “You’re a winner!”
- Offers of cheap prescription medications
- Ultimatums, such as “your account will be closed,” or “the deal will expire” that creates a sense of urgency.
- Something that appears to be from official government agencies, such as Social Security Administration, or banks, requesting personal information.
- Beware pop-up windows. Windows that pop up from your browser telling you that your computer or device has a virus are to fool you in to paying for fake anti-virus programs, or the links in the window can contain actual viruses waiting to be downloaded. Just close pop-up windows when they appear.
- Create a unique password for every account. Imagine if the key you use to get in your front door is also the key to your car, your bank account, and your mailbox. If you lose that key, anyone who finds it can now access all of these things. Similarly, if you use the same password for all your accounts and one is hacked, then all your other accounts are now accessible. Separate passwords for each and every account help limit the damage that can be done if/when you’re hacked.
- Create longer and stronger passwords. The longer your password is, the harder it for someone to guess. Instead of passwords, create “passphrases” of four to five words. Add numbers, symbols and mixed-case letters to make it even harder for would-be snoops to crack your password. Don’t use “12345” or “password,” and avoid using publicly available information like your phone number in your passwords.
- Write down passwords. Many experts say that the best password is the one you can’t remember. So, keep your list of unique passwords for each account on a piece of paper or in a notebook and keep it in a safe, secure place away from your computer.
- Shop safely. Don’t shop on a site unless it has “https” in its address and a padlock icon to the left or right of the URL. These mean the site takes extra measures to help secure your information. Also, use a credit card instead of a debit card for online purchases – a credit card company is more likely to reimburse you for fraudulent charges.
- Secure your accounts. Two-step authentication is one of the best ways to prevent unauthorized access to your accounts, even if somebody manages to steal your password. Here’s how it works: you provide an additional piece of identifying information to your online account; after correctly entering your password, you’ll be sent a text message or email with a unique string of numbers that you’ll need to also enter to access to your account. The idea is that you’re much more secure if somebody needs both your password and your smartphone or computer to access to your accounts.
If you’re aware of the hazards and use the Internet responsibly, it can be a wonderful tool for meeting people, sharing experiences, shopping and gathering information. Keep these tips in mind to ensure your Internet experience is both enjoyable and safe.