I received an email the other day saying I could get 68% off luxury watches. Then a few seconds later I received another email saying I could get 88% off luxury watches, and both emails pointed me to the same web site! So for fun I went to the web site and it told me I could get luxury watches for 85% off.
All this to say that you can’t really trust emails from people you don’t know. In the past twelve months alone, I must have run across fifteen distraught widows of world leaders who had huge sums of money to deposit if only they could find a bank account number with which to do so.
Now those are obvious things to avoid, but there are some pretty sophisticated scams out there on the Internet, and I read all the time about people being taken in.
Even smart people like you. So maybe it’s time for a refresher course on how to protect yourself online.
(Note that this column is written for business people; protection of children online goes far beyond what I am writing here. Schools and police departments are good sources of information.)
Deal with people you can trust. Use the same common sense you would use offline. Does this offer seem legit? Do you know anyone who has used the service already? Does the organization provide people’s names and/or contact phone numbers? And as you often hear, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is.
Do some independent verification. Enter the merchant’s name in a search engine and see what others are saying. Or even enter the merchant’s name followed by the word “scam” to see if anything pops up.
Beware of special offers or special instructions that require you to reveal private information. There are many scams that involve directing you to a web site that looks like a legitimate site, only to gather information from you that they can later use for their own purposes. Most financial institutions do not send unsolicited emails to their customers directing them to enter account numbers or passwords. This one is easy to check. Just pick up the phone and call the institution.
Type in the web address rather than click on a link. Don’t click on a link from an email, as it may direct you to a site not at all resembling what the email shows. If you do decide to go to the web site, open up a browser window and type it in.
Check for secure transmissions. If you are doing a credit card transaction, the Internet address should start with “https:” rather than “http:”, the “s” indicating that it is using a secure transmission. Many web browsers show other cues, like little pictures of padlocks, but the “s” in “https” is a common thing to look for.
Delete the browsing history after using your browser for secure transactions. I’ve seen some data left behind on a computer, like credit card numbers, from places you’d think would not allow it.
Stay anonymous unless otherwise required. Unless you’re ordering something, do they really need to know who you are? This is where a good second email address, like Hotmail or Gmail, can come in handy.
Beware of web sites that tell you they’ve found a virus and want to clean it up. If this happens, click out of it and if that doesn’t work, press CTRL+ALT+DELETE to get into Task Manager and terminate your browser. Then scan your computer with your own virus checker. (Mac users, please don’t email me; I already know you hardly ever get viruses.)
Don’t open emails or attachments that seem suspicious. Trust your judgment on this one; if the email doesn’t seem to make sense (even if it appears to come from a trusted source), stay clear if it, and especially do not open attachments. Send that trusted source an independent email asking if it really came from them. Also be careful about downloads from social networks, or accessing applications or widgets on social networks.
If you wouldn’t put it on a postcard, don’t put it in an email. Emails are easy to intercept and read.
Frequently back up your computer. This is easy to set up and backup devices are cheap. If you do get infected with a virus, it is sometimes easier to restore your computer than to try and delete the virus.
Use a firewall and virus and spam filters. Your Internet provider can help you out with this one, and help keep you from getting viruses to begin with.
Keep your computer up-to-date. Use the latest browser software, and make sure you have the latest operating system updates.
Those are some of the things that come to my mind. Type in “Internet Safety” and you’ll find lots of web sites that offer good advice. Click on the ones that come from trusted sources, like police or government web sites.