Thursday, November 25, 2010

Identity Theft: Rising Threat in This Holiday Season - - Few Tips and Tricks to Protect Your Identity on Cyber Monday

On this Cyber Monday; it's easy to grab deals from the comfort of your living room but take precautions to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, which costs U.S. consumers more than $50 billion a year. Only do business with websites that are properly secure. A common indicator that it's OK to enter confidential information is the presence of a padlock in the address bar on the checkout page. This means that the data you input will be properly encrypted for your protection.

Go ahead and check a Google search for the phrase “Cyber Monday” produced roughly 54 million results. But not all are legitimate, experts say. As we sit in our cubicles the Monday after Thanksgiving and fill up our shopping carts with steeply discounted goods (instead of filing the ol’ QED report), sophisticated hackers may try to intercept. “This is the time of year that scam artists are hard at work trying to relieve you of your hard-earned money,” says Mike Spinney, senior privacy analyst with the Ponemon Institute, a research “think tank” focusing on improving privacy and data protection. ”Be suspicious of everything.”

For the 50% of shoppers who will be buying holiday gifts online this Cyber Monday, here are some hard and fast rules for protecting your identity along the way.

* Use a Secure Network Connection. While you may be able to hop onto free wifi at your local coffee shop or in a wifi hotspot, you’re safer sticking with your own mobile internet service and connecting to your provider through an air card when you’re not at home or work. Hackers are known to set up phony operating networks that appear to belong to an organization you know or trust in order to lure you in and gain access to your personal data. For example, you may think you’re logging onto Starbucks’ free wifi because you see a network pop up that reads “Starbucks” — but it’s not necessarily legit.

* Shop Websites You Trust. While a Google search leads you to tens of millions of web pages with Cyber Monday deals don’t trust any and all deals, especially if they stem from retailers you don’t recognize or readily trust. Hackers are increasingly creating malicious web sites that are search engine optimized for popular phrases such as “cyber monday.” It’s called SEO poisoning. One quick way to know if a website is secure is to check its URL address. When time comes to pay and enter your credit card information make sure the URL address changes from http to https. The s means your purchase is encrypted. Another clue: If you can’t find a working phone number on the site, let that be a red flag. For best results, avoid search engines and type the website’s name directly into the address bar.

* Update Your Anti-malware Software. While you’re keeping your eyes out for scams, the software has your back–checking for viruses, worm, Trojans, you name it. “Security tools and techniques are commonplace, relatively cheap and convenient, and should be standard operation for anyone with a computer. Period. No excuses,” say Spinney.

* Watch Out For “Free Offers.” Skip free promotions that request your personal information like date of birth and social security number. It could cost you a whole lot more than just “free.”

* Choose Credit Over Debit. If possible, pay online with your credit card rather than a debit card. Credit cards generally offer more consumer protections in case something goes wrong. If your debit card information somehow gets intercepted by ID thieves, you may have a harder time retrieving stolen money. “The trick is that you’ve got to monitor your cards like a hawk. Set up purchase alerts to notify – text or email – when a card is used,” suggests Spinney.

* Avoid Suspicious Links. Phishing scams, which are email scams that lure you into taking some sort of action like verifying a username/password or entering credit information under false pretenses, run rampant around the holidays. Often identity thieves will send out emails or Facebook messages pretending to represent a great cause, charity or even someone you know, all to get you to give up personal information. Never respond to any emails, click on links or download files you weren’t expecting.

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