Staying safe online

Staying safe online

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:

  • Use a username rather than your own name.
  • Don’t reveal personal data, such as your date of birth, home address or phone number.
  • Avoid giving away details such as children’s and pets’ names, anniversaries or anything else you might use as a password or PIN.

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:

  • Never respond to e-mails asking for confidential data.
  • Get in touch with the organisation the e-mail supposedly comes from to warn them.
  • Don’t use the number on the fake e-mail or website — search for the organisation’s own website instead and use the contact details listed there.

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 subscription you get unlimited access to your Experian Credit Report.

Top tips for looking at your credit report:

  • Look out for applications you didn’t make and account balances that have suddenly risen — these could indicate identity fraud.
  • Inform the relevant lender immediately if you see anything suspicious.
  • Be prepared to provide proof that you were not responsible.

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:

  • Go through every line of your statements every month.
  • Query any transactions you don’t recognise, no matter how small.
  • Get a list of direct debits from your bank and make sure that you authorised all of them.

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 log onto any sites that need a password — including your bank, social network or credit card issuer.
  • Change your passwords regularly, in case your favourite ones are compromised.
  • Avoid passwords that can be guessed by someone who picks up some of your data — for example, don’t use your mother’s maiden name, date of birth or home town.

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:

  • Contact any affected lenders and explain what has happened.
  • Check your credit report regularly to make sure that no new frauds are taking place and that old ones are removed from the record when you’ve proved your case.

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