Computer and Internet Security

It is nearly impossible to operate today without the use of a computer and the internet.  E-mails, on-line banking, shopping and buying over the internet, and more all make life quicker.  When done without snags, life is easier.

Yet this convenience of tapping into the world is a new arena of theft possibilities for criminals.  Identity theft has exploded along with the use of computer and the internet. 

Here are some of the ways that criminals use the internet to steal from you and our suggestions to minimize your risk of becoming a victim:

Best Advice

Protect your computer!  Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, along with a firewall.  Often your internet provider may offer these as part of their service.  If not, they can be purchased on-line or at any business that offers computer software.  Spam filters will help keep unwanted email from filling up your in-box.  All protective software should be kept up to date as criminals are always coming up with new, inventive ways to take your money.

  • Anti-virus software:  scans incoming email messages for any files that could be trouble.
  • Anti-spyware software:  looks for programs that have been installed on your computer without your knowledge.  These programs track your online activities without your knowledge and run in the background without you even knowing of their existence.        
  • Firewall:  prevents hackers and other unauthorized communications from entering your computer.  This is especially important with broadband internet service because whenever you have your computer on, it is open to the internet

Phishing

Phishing describes what criminals do when they pretend to be official businesses, organizations, or even the government, sending you an email.  This email may ask for personal information such as financial account numbers, PIN numbers, social security number, mother’s maiden name, and other personal information.  It looks like an official email, however the vast majority of reputable businesses do not ask for this information over the internet.

Best advice:  Never respond to an unsolicited email from a business asking for personal information.  If you are unsure whether it is a real request, make contact by telephone to verify, but do not respond with personal information in the email.  This also includes unsolicited telephone calls from someone who says they are a legitimate business and are asking for your personal information.

Pharming

Pharming is a form of internet theft where your Web browser is hijacked by a virus or malicious program.  Without knowing it, you type in a legitimate website and you are taken to a bogus copy of the legitimate site.  When you type in your personal PIN numbers and other private information, it can be stolen and fraudulently used by the thieves.   Another way it occurs is when you are on a legitimate site of a business or organization and you have a pop-up screen appear, asking for personal information.  This pop-up screen is from the malicious program or virus. 

Best advicenever enter your personal information in a pop-up screen.  Install pop-up blocking software, and keep your other computer security up to date.

Email Attachments

Only open attachments that you are expecting.  Just because it comes from someone you know and trust does not mean there isn’t a malicious program or virus attached.   

Best advice:   If someone you know and trust wants you to look at an attachment, ask them to put in your name in a note and sign the note with their name, telling you what is in the attachment.    Viruses and malicious programs cannot yet duplicate that process.  Or even better, don't open the attachment at all.  Make the "delete" button your best friend.

Email links

Don’t click on links within an email, especially if they ask for your personal information.  This is one way that thieves redirect you to a phony, but official-looking website where they can steal your information and exploit it. 

Best advice:  copy the link and put it in your search engine rather than clicking on the link in the email.  If it is a link from someone you know and part of many forwarded email jokes, stories, or pictures, follow the same advice as email attachments.

Internet job searches

The internet has provided a vast, new forum for job seekers.  Phishers also use this resource, pretending to be potential employers, and ask the job seeker for personal information. 

Best advice:  If someone is seeking any of your personal or sensitive information, verify their name and phone number.  Then use the phone book, directory assistance, or internet to find the legitimate company’s correct phone number.  Call and verify that the person contacting you is a valid employee.

If You are the Victim of a Phisher

Act without delay if you have been hooked by a phisher.  If you have given away any personal information, such as social security number, account numbers, mother’s maiden name, PIN number, etc., contact the company that you have the account with immediately.  Put a “fraud alert” with the three major credit reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Trans-union).

Notify the company whose information was duplicated and alert them you have received a phishing email.  They will advise you how to forward the information to them so their security personnel can attempt to track down the thieves.

Andf you have become a victim of internet crimes, be sure and make a police report.

Further information about keeping your computer secure on the internet can be found through a website of the Federal Government at www.onguardonline.gov  and for additional information about internet fraud, visit http://www.usa.gov/Citizen/Topics/Internet_Fraud.shtml.