General Precautionary Measures:
- Avoid file-sharing and file-swapping programs. While they may be quasi-legal, they are a perfect way for hackers to obtain access to your computer, either to deliver a virus, or to obtain private information. Be aware of what your children are doing on your computer, and regularly search for file-sharing programs. For more tips on family-smart internet, visit www.getnetwise.org.
- Make sure your firewall and virus protection are updated before doing anything online, even checking your email. Make sure you are in control of and regulating what programs of your computer are allowed to access the internet without your express permission. If you don't know how to set these precautionary measures up yourself, find someone who does.
- Never enter your credit card without making sure they have an online identity protection policy. Never send credit card, bank account or social security information via email or any other hackable entity.
- Keep records of your purchases and confirmation numbers. If you don't want to go to the trouble of printing them out, keep a word document on your desktop that you open and cut and paste them into it as you go, using it as a type of digital file. That way if you should ever need the information, you have a place to find it.
- Create an email address simply for online purchases. I have two email addresses, one I give out to friends and family, and one that I use for online purchases of every kind, even the relatively secure ones like Amazon books, and airline tickets. Many retailers will send you confirmation emails etc, so don't forget the password or anything. Simply check this email before and after purchases, or to track purchases. You probably will get spammed. However, having an email service with great spam protection can even minimize the stuff you get in your 'junk' email. Simply report it as spam to your provider before you delete it.
- Never, ever, ever fall for the 'free 500$ gift card' scam. No one will ever give you anything for free. It's not gonna happen. One of the most prevalent internet and identity scams are popups offering you a free laptop, or a substantial gift card, or a _______ . When you click on the pop-up, you enter a site requiring you to view advertisements and select two in which to participate in order to receive your 'free' gift. They will bill you for your use of the products you selected but didn't really want. You will probably not get the bait they used to pull you into the site.
- Always follow the rule of thumb. IF IT'S SOUNDS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE, IT IS. Bill Gates is not sharing his fortune. You will not get a free laptop, free college tuition, or free gift card. No one in Africa, India, China etc. needs your help to access their long lost fortune. They only need your help to access yours.
Specific Problems to Protect Against:
Check carefully to make sure that there are no fine print sections that say they will be sending you newsletters and/or promotional materials. These sections usually have a pre-checked box that you will need to uncheck. Although, if you are a frequent shopper of this company, or this item, you might want to leave it checked, because in your case, those promotional offers could be of interest to you. Just be prepared to average about 2 emails from them a day.
These sites are notorious for hacking your firewall, your email address book etc etc. While it is a bad idea for many reasons to visit these sites, identity theft statistics climb through thru the roof when computer users submit information to sites that are either blatantly pornographic, or advertise for pornographic entities.
Phishing is a term that has been created to define the common identity theft technique of attempting to obtain information by spurious emails. Identity thieves send an email to your account posing as a bank, ebay, paypal, etc. and tell you they need confirmation of your account number, passcode, social security number etc. They often even re-direct you to a site that looks just like the institution they are posing as. Financial institutions will never, ever request this information from you via email. End of story. Ever. If you're still concerned an email might be a valid information request, call your company directly and ask them if they really do need an information change, and conduct that business over a secure phone line.