Monday Morsel - Be Safe!

Protect your time online

Early last week (before Halloween) I saw a Target commercial about holiday shopping. Once I got over the shock of the fact that it was still October and the ad centered on December holidays, I realized that turning the calendar page into November seems to indicate that we’re in holiday mode. If you’re starting to shift into that frame of mind, chances are that your holiday to-do list includes sending greetings, shopping, shipping and tracking, and making travel plans – all online.

Criminals are well aware that this is a busy time for online activity and they’re ready to take advantage. My Dad used to tell me that a lock just keeps an honest person honest, and not everybody’s honest. That means that sometimes you have to think like the criminals and take some precautions. There are lots of experts who make an excellent living fighting cyber crime. While I’m not one of those experts, there are a few ordinary things we all can do to protect our time online. In today’s Monday Morsel, let’s discuss five simple things you can do to protect yourself and others from cyber harm.

1. Don’t get too personal

Have you ever Googled yourself or considered the information that’s available to the general public through your Facebook profile or other social media information? It’s staggering when you consider the wealth of information out there. Criminals use this information to personalize scams or to get to know your routines. For example, if they notice you support a particular charity or retailer, that information can be used in fake solicitations, advertisements, or discount offers that ultimately compromise your security. This is called a "phishing scam" and is social engineering at its worst.

You also may want to reconsider the personal nature of some of the things you post, like when you’ll be on vacation, when your baby was born, or what time you come and go on the average day.

Finally, if you use Facebook, review your privacy settings. They don’t make it easy, but within Privacy, you can control who can search for your profile and if your profile is included in public search results.

2. Monitor your online spending

I don’t mean for budgetary reasons – that’s another morsel!

Many things happen behind the scenes when you buy something online, from the next steps that occur to the way your information is retained. Remember that when you make an online purchase, the payment information you entered may be stored somewhere. If you can, designate one card for online purchases. If you use PayPal, consider a special account that you use only for PayPal activity and ensure that account is not linked to your primary accounts. That insulates your main accounts in the event of a breach. And don’t consider yourself a worrywart if you check your online banking activity regularly. It’s easier to resolve fraudulent activity when it first occurs than after a few statement cycles have passed.

3. Check the rep

Big companies in different industries spend millions of dollars every year gaining your trust, although we’re not always aware of what they’re doing. When it comes to online shopping, we’re much more trusting and that can lead to trouble.

Generally speaking, you have the best online shopping experiences when you stick to known and reputable retailers. These retailers have experience around customer service, fulfillment, and returns – and, more importantly, are successful because they guard their customers’ information. Factor a retailer’s reputation into your decision about where to place an order.

In addition, if you’re buying from an online auction site (e.g. eBay) or a specialty site that features individual sellers (e.g. eBay or Amazon), take a look at the seller feedback before you buy and use your best judgment before you order.

4. Learn to recognize spam and phishing

Both spam and phishing are carried out over e-mail systems. Spam is the term used to describe e-mails from unsolicited sources, like the junk mail you receive at home. Spam is sometimes just an ad but sometimes it’s malicious. My rule of thumb is: Never open an attachment on an unsolicited e-mail, and be very careful about opening attachments from sources you do recognize. Your friend's email address may have been compromised and sending you malicious attachments.

Phishing is an attempt to trick you into revealing sensitive information, like bank account or credit card information. Most of us hear about phishing via e-mail, but it also occurs over the phone or by mail. When you receive an authentic looking e-mail, double-check it with a critical eye. Check where the links go before you click on them and check the senders real email address. Both of these steps can most often be accomplished by hovering your pointer over links in the message. Don’t hesitate to delete a phishy e-mail! Remember, banks don’t e-mail you asking you to follow a link and log in.

5. Take a breath

It is a great life lesson that things go wrong when you’re in a hurry. If you think about it, isn’t the morning when you’re running late always the morning when something goes wrong? When you’re hurried – and harried – you’re less like to take the precautions you should and more likely to fall victim. Take your time and remember that the holiday season isn’t about ticking things off your to-do list.

If you’d like to discuss these or other ways you can protect yourself from cyber harm, give me a call. Have a great week!