Updated: Feb 27, 2022
When the topic of fraud comes up in conversation or on the news, it usually involves a well-known company or individual engaging in an elaborate scheme, getting caught, and suffering major consequences. In this issue, however, we will focus on something mundane: using the internet. Over 80% of Americans use the internet and over 70% access it with a personal computer. If you are one of these people, how well do you protect your sensitive information online? Below are three simple tips to ensure better security and peace of mind while using your computer:
Stop and think before clicking. Many of the worst cyber crimes in history could have been prevented simply by slowing down. Stop and review your emails and links to websites closely. Ask yourself, “Is this strange?” or “Is this too good to be true?” If an email makes you say “YES” to these questions, examine it very closely before clicking on any content. Look at the sender’s email address and the body of the email. Do you recognize the sender’s name or email address? Is the email address and the email’s contents spelled correctly? If not, these are basic warnings that the email is fraudulent. Analyze links contained within the email by using your mouse to hover the cursor over the link without clicking it. A web address will appear in a pop-up box, allowing you to see the link’s destination. A company or individual requiring sensitive information will (should) never request it over email or social media. If you are uncertain whether the sender is legitimate, look up the party’s phone number and call directly.
Create strong passwords especially over sensitive documents and websites containing sensitive information. It is annoying and time consuming, but the benefits are astronomical. Each letter, number or symbol added to a password makes it exponentially stronger. Passwords should never be information easily attainable such as birthdays, family names, or addresses. People often write down their passwords because they feel they have too many, they are easy to forget, and they have to change them frequently. Instead, try choosing a password that describes something unique to you. Substitute numbers and symbols for several letters in that password, and develop a method to make subtle, future changes. **TIP: Want the benefit of excellent passwords without having to remember them? Consider using a password manager such as LastPass or Dashlane. This software, developed by IT experts, will store your login credentials securely for every website that needs them automatically after your first login [and installing the web browser extension]. You can also have the password manager generate complex passwords for you and remember those every time you access that website while signed into the password manager. The only thing you need to remember is your “Master Password” for the software you choose. That's it! Be sure to read customer reviews to determine which software option is best for you.
Regularly update your computer’s operating system, spyware and virus protection, and firewall. Fraudsters are constantly inventing new ways to access your sensitive information. Updating these items regularly will ensure you have the latest protection against current viruses and other malware. Most devices are set to update or notify you to install updates automatically, however, if you are unsure whether your device is sufficiently updated, check for a software update field within the device settings. If there are no updates showing in the settings, and/or you are still concerned, talk to your IT provider or customer service team for the device to verify the status. Run virus scans routinely with your devices’ antivirus software for added peace of mind. Mobile devices can download antivirus apps to perform this function.
Nothing can completely prevent your computer from being compromised but implementing tips like these will significantly lower your risk. Additional tips, as well as the latest news on fraud impacting North Carolina, can be found on the NC Department of Justice website: http://www.ncdoj.gov/.
DISCLAIMER: This page and its contents are for general information and educational purposes only and posted by the author on an "as available" basis on behalf of Shields Financial Services. No specific legal, tax, investment, or other advice in any form is being offered to the reader by the author, or Shields Financial Services. By accessing this website, you implicitly agree that there is no existing client relationship between you and the author or Shields Financial Services without a prior, signed letter of engagement. The content on this website is never to be considered, or used as a substitute for, competent legal, tax, investment, or other advice from a suitably licensed professional, who has been advised of all pertinent facts and circumstances surrounding the reader’s unique individual and/or business circumstances.