Featured Guest Post
Identity theft is a growing problem in this digital age; hackers and scammers use an arsenal of weapons to access to your personal information, which they then use to their own seedy end. Let’s take a look at some of their favourites and how you can avoid them:
Common Online Scams
Phishing is a way of tricking you into supplying personal information (such as usernames and passwords) by email or instant messaging.
Here’s a tip: if you’re ever sent a message that appears to be from a reputable company, but it asks you to confirm your details by clicking a link to an external website – don’t do it; these links may look like an official website, but they’ll actually take you to a scammer’s website where you’ll be asked to enter your information. (Definitely don’t do that.)
Social engineering is a broad term that encompasses all forms of online trickery that manipulate people into divulging personal information.
Social engineering is often done by people posing as someone you know; they’ve gathered information about you from various online sources (such as social networks) and are now using it to trick you into handing over your details. (Phishing is a type of social engineering.)
Whether it’s a public computer in a library or a Wi-Fi hotspot in town, unsecured locations are a hacker’s favourite place to hang out. Buying something online over an unsecured network is tantamount to handing your credit card over to hackers. Why not save yourself the trouble and just leave your card in the ATM?
Malware is malicious software installed on your computer without your knowledge or consent, and it can be used to access personal information. It can find its way onto your computer if you download something from an untrusted source or click a link in an email from an unknown sender.
How to Protect Yourself against Scammers
Choose Strong Passwords
We all know that passwords should be hard to guess, include a variety of numbers, special characters and capital letters, and that we should change them regularly. But keeping up with constantly changing passwords and trying to remember which ones you used where can be next to impossible.
Markus Jakobsson suggests that passwords need to be strong and memorable, and we’re inclined to believe him. At the very least, make sure you stick to these rules for your email password, because that’s the one scammers can use to easily access all your other passwords.
Download Updates and Upgrades
Updates exist for a reason: to fix security flaws and close doors on hackers. Look, we know they’re annoying. But seriously, they’re for your own good.
You should always update your browsers and software when prompted, and upgrade to newer versions as they come out, because obsolete ones aren’t updated any more. (Or you could invite those pesky hackers in for a cuppa. Either way.)
Install Antivirus Software
Installing security software is a must to protect against infections and attacks. There are countless options available, but if you can’t afford to pay for an expensive package, pick up the best free antivirus software you can and set ‘er up for automatic scans every week – and don’t forget to download those updates we talked about.
Protect Your Credit Cards
The number one rule of online shopping is to use a credit card, never a debit card. Credit cards offer better protection against fraudulent transactions and it’s not your money at risk, it’s the lenders’.
As soon as you plug your debit card’s details into an online store, it’s your money that’s at risk, and it’ll be coming straight out of your bank account.
To add an extra layer of protection to your online transactions, enrol your credit cards in 3D Secure schemes, which require another authentication step before your card can be used. And, it goes without saying – you should only buy from trusted websites. Look for the little padlock in the address or status bar; it should be locked.
Sharing your private information online is a fabulous way to entice scammers who specialise in social engineering, so… don’t do that.
Make your social media accounts private, only add people you actually know, and don’t share any sensitive information. And definitely don’t supply information to anybody who outright asks for it, no matter how much he sounds like your old Uncle Ernie – that’s a phishing scam waiting to happen.
Don’t Use Public Computers or Wi-Fi Connections
If you do find yourself logging on via a public computer or network, be very careful about the information you access.
Don’t access anything related to your finances (such as your online banking or your utilities accounts) or make any purchases; buying something on an unsecured Wi-Fi network is how Joe – 3,000 miles away – buys a new iPhone or twenty and leaves you to foot the bill.
Stop Clicking Everything
The internet is a beautiful place, full of beautiful things. Unfortunately, it’s also full of scams and malware, so you need to be careful of where you click and what you download. Rule of thumb: if it sounds too good to be true, it is.
Always pay attention to the URLs you’re directed to, and check file extensions of things you want to download; if it ends in .exe, it’s probably not good news (unless it’s a program you specifically sought out from a trusted source).
Use Your Common Sense
Common sense will take you a long way in protecting your identity online – couple that with the advice above and you’ll be well positioned to protect yourself from online scammers and hackers.
And remember: your computer probably doesn’t have the virus that pop-up says it does, and nobody is actually going to give you £50,000 if you enter your bank details on that website. Just so you know.