Online fraud is increasing, one recent report estimated that 12 million pieces of information were traded online by fraudsters in just the first four months of 2012, that’s triple the amount recorded in 2010.
With a wealth of personal and banking information stored online and on desktop computers, laptops or handheld devices this can be where you are most vulnerable to fraud.
As technology becomes increasingly advanced, so too, unfortunately, do the scams designed to lure us in. As a result protecting yourself when it comes to technological devices has become more important than ever.
It’s not only your money that fraudsters are after either, with many stealing identities for the purpose of taking out loans or credit cards in your name, so evidence of fraud may not be as clear as an anomaly on your own bank statement.
Here are some of the most commonly used tactics to look out for:
- Unsolicited emails, like calls, should be treated with extreme caution. Never give out your personal details or banking details unless you are 100% sure that the person asking is a legitimate representative of a legitimate company. Remember that you bank will not ask you for your pin number. If in doubt call your bank by a number that you know is not fraudulent.
- An unsolicited call from someone purporting to be your I.T. provider should likewise be treated with caution. Check any IT company thoroughly before you allow access to your devices and never allow remote access to your computer if you are at all in doubt over the person you are dealing with. While an offer may sound attractive, the cost of fraud can be devastating.
- Social networks and other ways of sharing personal details online can be a major problem area. Giving out too many personal details can be a risky business. Fraudsters harvesting public information from such sources may be more common than you think. Keep your privacy settings tight, and don’t give out unnecessary details especially to people that you don’t know well.
- Attempts at hacking into accounts, whether email, social media or bank accounts, are a commonplace occurrence in today’s world of fraud. You may be able to keep your passwords safer using some of the tips below and think twice about storing valuable information in your email or other accounts.
Remember, if it sounds too good to be true it probably is, but equally even the superficially plausible may turn out to be a ruse to steal your money or even your identity. Many of us will have had some exposure to the email from the foreign prince asking to transfer money into your account in return for a “fee”, but some scams aren’t as obvious as this. Fraudsters may attempt to imitate your bank either online or via falsely branded websites.
There are also other practical steps that you can take, both online and offline, to help protect yourself from fraud and detect unusual activity early:
- Don’t leave your computer logged in and unattended, and make sure that your account if password protected, so that you need a password to get back in once you’ve logged out.
- Install and keep updated anti-virus software and activate firewalls onto your devices.
- Check your bank and credit card statements regularly, this can help you recognise any anomalies as soon as they occur. Many people go for months at a time without checking their statement, if they do so at all. Most banks now offer online banking, if you have an online account you should be able to browse your up-to-date statements at the click of a mouse (after typing in at least one password, of course).
- If you’re unsure about something that you see on your statement call your bank, they may be able to provide you with more information, and help you investigate further anything that is suspect.
- Your local Trading Standards office or the Office of Fair Trading may be able to offer advice on what to do if you doubt the authenticity of a website or business.
- Change your passwords regularly, and make them random. Avoid using the same password for different accounts and make them a random combination of upper and lower case letters and numbers, this could help minimise the chances of successful hacking.
The above is by no means an exhaustive list, and using common sense can help in the battle against identity and financial fraud whether online or otherwise. Identity and financial fraud can be devastating, so protecting yourself, your computer and your online activity as far as possible could save you a good deal of worry later on.
About the Author: John Hughes writes for Competent Solutions, a full-service Bristol IT Solutions company offering expert support and an extensive range of technology services including Cloud IT to help your business move forward.