I don’t know if it’s the recession, but spammers seem to be getting more and more aggressive recently. I’ve been getting lots of spam email and – even worse – phishing email. The problem: many of those emails seem completely legitimate at first, and can be sent out from email addresses that you trust.
Spam is the unlawful, unsolicited sending of bulk email for commercial purposes. Phishing is the criminally fraudulent process of attempting to acquire sensitive information such as user names, passwords and credit card details by masquerading as a trustworthy entity in an electronic communication. Many phishing emails masquerade as being sent from your bank, and ask you to click on a link. Once you click on the link, you arrive at a site that looks like your bank’s site, where you are asked to enter your user name and password, but in fact this is a phishing site that will use the information you enter to gain entry into your bank account.
So how do you protect yourself from Internet based fraud? Follow these simple tips:
Never Click on Links Embedded in Emails
It used to be that you could trust email from people you know, but these days, hackers can get into your friends’ emails and use them to send out spam and phishing emails that would bypass your spam filter. Click on links within emails only if you are 100% sure they are legitimate.
Guard Your Sensitive Information
Your bank, the IRS or any other reputable institution will never embed a link in an email that leads you to a page where you’re asked to provide sensitive information such as a user name, a password, your social security number, date of birth or any other information that can be used to break into your accounts or steal your identity. The phishing sites will do their best to scare you into giving out those details (“Or your account will be deactivated.”) Ignore these threats. You can always call the bank to ask if they had sent that email.
Make Sure The Site is Secure
Legitimate financial sites use the encrypted https instead of the regular http, and will have a lock symbol on the bottom right of your browser window. Phishing sites don’t.
Learn to Recognize Spam
Spam and phishing emails are often filled with spelling and grammatical errors and generally are not as sleek and professional as real emails from legitimate institutions.
Protect Your Computer
Protect your computer with effective anti-virus and anti-spam software, and set up firewalls. ZoneAlarm is a good free firewall and AVG is a good, free anti-virus software. Make sure your operating system and browsers are updated regularly. Always install security patches.
Use Passwords of At Least 12 Characters
Brute-force attacks are now much more of a threat to short passwords, given the increasing computational prowess of computers. According to researchers, length is a major factor to protect against brute force approaches.
If You’re A Victim, Act Immediately
If you provided account numbers or passwords to a phisher, notify the companies with whom you have the accounts right away. Place a fraud alert on your files at the credit reporting bureaus and file a police report with your local police station. Even if you didn’t fall for the phishing scam, it’s important to report phishing to the company that the phisher was impersonating.
Internet fraud is a real threat that can wreak havoc on your life. “Better safe than sorry” has never been more true. It’s sad that we can’t be trusting anymore, not even when we get an email from a friend, but the reality is, we just can’t. It’s better to accept this and to act accordingly than to become a victim.