Safeguarding your identity online


Nigerian millionaires looking for your help, bank payments from Russia that didn’t go through, or even Facebook “friends” who want to “reconnect” with you; there are scams for everything out there.

Using the internet means you have to be prepared to defend yourself from unscrupulous tricksters who want into your computer, bank account, and identity. Now, when we say ‘defend’ we don’t mean barricading yourself behind the dining room table with a potato gun. We mean taking steps to ensure that there is nothing for these people to latch onto when they come across you, online.

First of all, your most basic and necessary protection is a good anti-virus software package. Not only will this protect your computer and the files you have stored on it from hackers, it will also warn you about suspicious websites, and actively catch anything trying to break through to you. The crucial thing to remember about anti-virus software is that you must keep it up-to-date. If you don’t, you run the risk of leaving exploitable holes in your security network that otherwise would have been patched by the latest version of your anti-virus.

Social media websites are common places for fraudsters to trawl for opportunities. Many people leave their profiles and contact information open to the public, which is a huge no-no. It may make it easier for your friends and acquaintances to find you, but it also makes it easy for the bad guys to steal your identity. If they know your email address, phone number, date of birth, where you live, where you went to school, who your best friend is, and what you look like, they can do quite a bit of damage ranging from setting up fake profiles with your name on them, to signing you up for all kinds of things. They can even use the information they gathered to hack into other accounts you own that require basic security questions like “what is your mother’s maiden name?” or “where were you born?”.

The solution? Ensure that your profiles have the highest levels of privacy, so that only those on your friends list can see your details. Also, don’t put everything about you on social media! Keep the information you post to a bare minimum, and if you must supply information you’d rather not, make it up and write it down somewhere safe.

Another big area of risk lies in online retail therapy. Shopping online gives you access to a huge range of items, but it also opens you up to a huge range of risks. We all know to protect our credit cards in real life, but how many of us protect them online? All it takes is one person to get a-hold of your credit card number, and before you know it they’ve overdrawn on your account and potentially ruined your credit rating for years to come.

However, there are steps you can take to ensure this doesn’t happen to you. As mentioned about, install a good quality anti-virus to get rid of malware, spyware, and keyloggers (programmes that log the keys you press on your computer). Next, only shop on websites that you know are trusted. Places like Amazon, eBay, and Trademe are great examples. If you venture onto a website that you’re not so sure about, Google its name and check out what other people are saying about it. If it’s bad, then you know to stay away. If it looks ok, then your next step is to look at the URL of the website. Does it start with ‘https’? If it does, then it is a secure website and safe for you to proceed. Finally, shopping online is all about using your common sense. Always make sure there is a way to contact the seller via phone number, email, or address. If a website looks dodgy, then do a U-turn and find someplace else.

The final point to be raised here is the issue of scam emails. Those silly pleas for help from millionaire Nigerian businessmen, or letters from banks saying your ‘deposit has failed to transfer’ are all scams. Think critically about such emails if you are unsure: did you, in the past months, try to transfer money to Russia? Why are these emails addressed to ‘Sir/Madame’? Why would a millionaire contact you? The answer is simply that they are all scams. These emails are stabs in the dark; the senders are sending them out en masse in the hopes that someone will reply. If you do reply, either with an offer to help or an expletive-laden refusal, then they know that there is someone at your email address and they will target you in other ways.

So be careful! Don’t reply to emails where you don’t know the sender. Think critically about everything you do online, and you will be safe.

Posted in Computer Tips.