If you missed part one of our internet safety series, check it out here. Let’s continue with how to stay safe using your emails, banking, shopping & how to stay smart when it comes to online scams.
EMAILS (think power lines to and in your house)
Emailing, now as common as using electricity, still drives much of our written communication, despite it being eclipsed by texting and social media use. With email, you have invited a communication line into your home that feels more like an electrical fuse box than just a socket.
There are multiple possibilities of access, to open lines of communication; and a lot of potential dangers if you don’t know how to avoid touching a wrong wire. Just as you wouldn’t use certain materials to touch the electrical wires, you must avoid using danger spots that are part of the email system.
Your email server’s junk-mail filter will be your fist, albeit not the most comprehensive barrier. Some email providers provide much more intricate filtering options to help you filter more thoroughly: weeding out emails that may link you with spam disguised as ads, or even more dangerous elements.
Spam and dangerous emails try to sound and look like someone you know, or would want to reply to. They get your information by tricking you into clicking some part of the email. Whatever you do, don’t reply! Don’t click! Don’t even open emails unless you are completely sure you know who it’s from. Here are the red flags of caution:
- unusual or inaccurate spelling of something that seems familiar. Look for odd characters in an email address.
- urgent requests for a reply (such as threats to your safety, or that of a loved one, or some other emergency)
- a sudden windfall (like a lottery win, or a class-action lawsuit win), or unbelievable discount on some item you may have browsed.
To reduce receiving such emails, avoid giving your email out as much as possible.
- Use a separate email that you only use with your most trusted contacts. Use caution with any links they send.
- Never download anything sent to you by email unless you have secure proof of the sender, and of the link they provide.
- Sometimes our trusted contacts may unknowingly send a link to something with malware.
- Avoid putting email addresses into an email you send.
For those who may legitimately need that information from you, such as your bank or your boss, they should have very secure sites for you to do that; definitely never submit that through an email. Or just call them. Even if everything checks out, make the extra effort to contact that person another way. Preventing identity theft is well worth the extra precaution.
SOCIAL MEDIA (as though you were walking through the neighborhoods of the world)
Social media, even more than texts, has made it possible for people to share written, spoken words, and visual images readily. More and more, it’s without the customary inhibitions, or rules of in-person communication.
The associated and massive increase in the amount of personal information being shared on the internet, on a very frequent basis, has created serious social and mental health problems. And just as frightening, created an even greater appetite to exploit those who have put so much personal data on the internet. Remember, nothing ever disappears from the internet. It will remain there, in some place, forever.
If you use social media:
- aggressively use the maximum privacy settings.
- keep personal and work accounts distinctly separate.
- just as with any internet use, maximize device-protection features.
- report any threatening or abusive language from any and all sources.
- avoid posting plans about where you will be, won’t be. Thieves can use this information.
- avoid posting personal information.
- avoid accepting requests from people you don’t know.
ONLINE BANKING (keep it safe-like a wallet and the safe for your valuables)
Banking online isn’t only about whether the banks are secure. Most bank sites are designed to be as secure as possible. But the best way to access the most secure bank site is to think of it as though it’s your wallet, or the safe in your house.
You don’t open it up for all to see, nor for others to know how to get access to them when you take them out. Your bank wouldn’t expose your information readily either. So use only the safest paths to the online bank’s doors. Follow your safest paths from your home internet to the secure bank’s internet.
Banks know how fragile internet communication is outside your internet doors and theirs. So they won’t need you to help them with personal information they already have.; and only for a transaction that you initiate. Don’t reply to any requests for such information.
Access to your bank’s official website by typing into the address line yourself. Don’t copy and paste it. Once you’ve determined you have the correct site, you can bookmark it.
Never provide your personal or banking information to anyone online who asks for it. There are better ways to provide those details safely when it is a legitimate request.
Use online banking only on your well protected home internet, with well-protected devices. Public wi-fi is not secure. Ever.
Change banking passwords frequently. You can add a number or letter to an already complex password (as described above), to help you manage frequent changes.
Make frequent use of M.F.A. (multiple factor authentication), frequently used with highly-secured websites like a bank’s. This can work in a few ways. You are expected to enter the typical user i.d. with password, but an extra layer of secure data needs to be entered too. This can be a short-term use code to enter that they email or text you (choose email over SMS message when possible), or they may ask you one of your previously designed security questions.
ONLINE SHOPPING (think delivery drivers)
Whenever a delivery is made to your house, you hope to find exactly what you bought in the parcel. Your delivery person will not need to enter your home unannounced, nor will they need access to any of your personal data. Your online shopping experience is just as straightforward, with very little information required to complete the transaction.
Reputable merchants diligently provide highly secure features to protect their customers’ online transactions. It is in their best interests to do so. So, make sure you are at the correct website, and that you have employed the best identity protection in completing your transaction. Many customers use payment services such as PayPal to minimize the exposure of their payment details (such as credit card numbers).
Make sure you’re using the best tools for your devices as described above, but also make sure you continue to use our tips on Browsing.
Provide only information that’s absolutely necessary. Secure your online shopping transactions by applying what you already know about Banking online.
Double-check the legitimacy and security of the websites you are shopping from very carefully.
As mentioned earlier, do a thorough search for reviews, and read the Terms of Service with any new merchant when you do business with them for the first time.
Avoid checking that little box on websites you use, where it lets you save your name, password and/or any identifying or shipping information. Although it makes your shopping faster, it makes the information too readily available.
SCAMS & SPAM (some dogs bite)
We’ve written about receiving messages from people trying to scam you by pretending they are someone you know or that you need to reply to. Typically, these scammers want to obtain your personal information to use your identity, or to exploit you about something they have learned about you.
Whether it’s pretending you will receive something or that you, or someone you know, are in trouble, or to get you to go onto their site while they make it look like something else, they can flood your email and social media accounts if you aren’t actively filtering them out, and avoiding them at all costs. Getting your stuff is usually the purpose of these scammers and spammers.
Then there are those who may be looking to harm and exploit you personally. Be extremely vigilant and quick to report any kind of threatening or overly personal messages. Cyber-bullying and harassment is not limited to teens. The world of internet-based human-trafficking and other illegal activity isn’t just targeting youth.
Predators of every kind have found a large community (the whole world on the internet). Take safety measures and stay informed on updates and new innovations that further protect your internet presence.
There’s so much more to learn about staying safe on the internet. We hope this mini series has helped you feel more confident about navigating the web and keeping you and your family safe!