With a recent string of high-profile hacking incidents, the risk of cyber-attack is a growing concern for both businesses and individuals.
If you are an online novice you are particularly at risk, as cyber-criminals seek to exploit the most vulnerable internet users.
You may not be aware of the Internet threats, such as fake websites and social media operated by unscrupulous types who seek to acquire sensitive information.
In order to protect your personal data when using the internet, there are a number of simple steps you can take:
• Create and maintain strong passwords, and change them frequently – Despite huge advances in security technology, the password is still the primary line of defence against having your online account information compromised. Ensure that your password contains a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters, as this will make it more difficult to crack. Remember, the more complex your password, the harder it is to crack – and ensure that you have a different one for each account you use. Alternatively, use a password management system to automate the process.
• Only open emails from people you know – Online scammers are able to collect valuable information about the status of your email account simply by monitoring whether or not an email has been opened. You should also make sure that your email account settings do not allow images to open automatically. This tactic is used by cyber-criminals to verify that a particular email address is “live”.
• Always use a credit card rather than a debit card when making online purchases – This is particularly important when booking holidays or making other high-value purchases. Credit cards offer better fraud protection, and the fact that they are not usually linked directly to your bank account means that your personal finances are kept more secure.
• Stay alert to the dangers of buying financial products online – In general, try to avoid dealing with financial matters online, and instead try to have in-person meetings with an accredited planner. Never pay for online advice from someone who doesn’t have a formal business address (no PO boxes), a corporate email address (not Gmail, Hotmail, Yahoo) and dedicated landline telephone number.
• Look out for copycat websites – Another common scam for cyber-criminals is to set up a fake “official” website that charge a fee to process or renew official documents – such as passports or visas - which you could do yourself for free or much cheaper. Don’t be fooled by a .org web address as the .org address alone does not guarantee it is an official website. Any site claiming to be an official government website will have a .gov web address. And take time to read the home page – it may even state that it’s not affiliated with the official body.
• Never provide account information in response to an email – Reputable companies do not ask their customers to provide account information over email. Also, avoid clicking on links that are embedded in emails that ask for you to provide account information. There is a chance that it could lead to a fake website that has been made to look genuine. If you have any concerns at all about your account, make sure to contact the company directly.
• Don’t click on the “unsubscribe” link in an email unless you’re familiar with the company – Companies that advertise over email are required to supply an “unsubscribe” link that allows recipients to stop receiving emails from them in the future. However, for some companies this response is a prompt to bombard your account with spam, some of which may contain harmful computer viruses.
Beware giving information over the phone
Aside from the risks that come with using the internet, older people are also vulnerable to scammers and con artists attempting to gain access to personal data and sensitive information over the telephone. Here are some tips that can help you protect yourself against such threats:
• Avoid giving out your personal information over the telephone – Telephone scammers are incredibly skilled at impersonating government officials or bank employees. They may call you to ask that you “verify” a password for them, or even provide them with your bank account details. Always refuse, a credible company would never call and ask you to provide this type of information over the telephone.
• Don’t answer the telephone unless it is someone that you know – If you receive a call from an “unknown” or “blocked” telephone number, don’t answer it. If you don’t allow scammers to get in touch with you, there’s no way that they can take advantage of you or gain access to your personal information.
• Request that you be added to the company’s “Do Not Call” List – If you do find yourself on a call with a company that you don’t wish to speak to, you can ask to be placed on their “Do Not Call” list. This means that you will not be bothered by them again, saving you time and hassle in the future.
Ultimately, staying ahead of scammers and spammers is about exercising good judgment. Older people are increasingly tech savvy, but anyone who uses the internet runs the risk of falling into a well-laid trap. Understanding the risks, and taking note of the above advice, can go a long way to helping you protect yourself against the activities of cyber-criminals.
• Keylogger – A keylogger scam is when hackers use software to track the keystrokes that a computer user makes, and then use this information to identify their victims’ login names, passwords, bank account and other personal details.
• Malware – Short for ‘malicious software’, it is the term for a software program developed for the purpose of infiltrating and harming a computer system.
• Pharming – Refers to a technically sophisticated scam that redirects users to a fake website in order to trick them into providing sensitive financial and identity information.
• Phishing – Refers to when scammers imitate a legitimate company over email in order to encourage people to share their personal data.
• Spyware – Software that collects information about your computer and how you use it and relays that information elsewhere. Spyware ordinarily runs in the background, and in some cases installs itself on your computer without your knowledge or permission.
• Trojan Horse – A computer virus that appears at first to be a useful or harmless file, but if installed can delete or damage a computer system.
Bill Carey is Vice President of Marketing & Business Development at Siber Systems Inc., which offers the top-rated RoboForm Password Manager solution. Find out more about RoboForm at www.roboform.com/password-manager