Facebook, MySpace, Flickr, Twitter and all the other online social networking sites are great for keeping in touch with friends and family — but they can also be opportunities for criminals to keep tabs on you. And while e-mail is a wonderful means of communication, it’s also a great way for savvy fraudsters to lure you into giving away confidential information.
According to research commissioned by the Office of Fair Trading, one in 15 of us fall for a scam every year, including many people who are overconfident that they won’t be taken in.
Don’t join them – take these precautions for staying safe online.
Don’t Be a Twit
One Twitter user recently told his followers about his family break away from home. Among them was a burglar who cross-referenced the tweeter to Flickr, where the unsuspecting man had posted photos of his prized possessions with embedded links showing their location. Unsurprisingly, the house was raided while the family was away.
The rueful victim noted, “With a few clicks you could get driving directions right to my place. And with a few more, you could get black gloves and a lock pick delivered.” He has learned his lesson the hard way — but you don’t need to.
Top tips for staying safe online while on social networks:
Don’t Respond to Phishing Expeditions
New figures from Cifas, the UK’s fraud prevention service, show that fraud is rising in the recession — and a lot of it is a result of online use. Fraudsters frustrated by the credit drought have focused on taking over existing accounts, with reported cases up 75 percent.
Be particularly alert for e-mails supposedly coming from your bank or credit card issuer asking you to log on and verify your identity. If you do click though, you could be sent to a site that is designed to persuade you to give away your username and password or to one that contains a virus that will steal information from your personal computer.
Top tips for dealing with phishermen:
Check your Credit Report Regularly
Identity fraud — when criminals use personal data to run up debts in the name of an innocent victim — is up by 40 percent, say Cifas. One effective precaution, according to the Home Office, is to check your credit report regularly.
Your credit report is the history of all your credit accounts — such as credit and store cards, loans, mortgages and even mobile phone accounts. It includes your repayment record and registers searches that lenders made when you applied for credit. That means you can immediately spot any unfamiliar or suspicious transactions and can stop trouble before it has a chance to develop.
As part of the CreditExpert subscription you get unlimited access to your Experian Credit Report.
Top tips for looking at your credit report:
Tick off Transactions on your Statements
If you are a victim of account takeover, you might not even notice for months unless you check your bank and card statements carefully. Fraudsters are increasingly taking small amounts of money regularly from their victims rather than going for one big hit because they have worked out that many people never examine their statements in detail and, if they do, simply think that a small amount taken now and again is a transaction that they’ve forgotten about.
Top tips for spotting dubious transactions:
Be Wary of Wi-Fi
Mobile shopping and banking at wi-fi hotspots are becoming commonplace — but it carries risk because you never know who might be eavesdropping electronically.
Top tips for staying safe online when using wi-fi in public:
Don’t Panic if you Become a Victim
Anyone can become a victim of ID fraud – it’s even happened to the bosses of big banks. Around a fifth of victims only know that they’ve been targeted when a finance company gets in touch with them, while other people discover that their credit status has been trashed by a crook only when they are turned down for a genuine credit application. Most people Experian helps find out they were a victim when they check their credit report.
Top tips if you think you’re suffering from identity fraud: