Keep yourself safe and protect your personal information online by following these simple rules:
Before responding to any request for personal, financial, or account information, make sure you know who is asking for it and why they need it. Be exceptionally careful if a request is made with an urgent or threatening tone. Criminals use this trick to get your personal and/or account information to access your accounts or commit identity theft.
If you're suspicious of any request, you should directly contact the company whose name is used in making the request, to confirm the request is valid. If you think you've provided personal or account information in response to a fraudulent email or website, change your password and any other authentication information (e.g. challenge questions, secret questions, etc.) and monitor your account activity frequently.
See How to Deal with Identity Theft and Fraud for more information on next steps.
Make sure your computer has virus and spyware protection programs installed. These programs protect you against malicious software (also known as 'malware') and computer viruses. Ensure that these programs are set to automatically update daily. Also, make sure your software is set up to scan all email attachments.
Criminals send out fake emails to random email addresses, hoping to reach real customers. These emails are called 'phishing' emails. It's one of the ways criminals try to trick customers into giving personal information (account numbers, passwords, etc.).
Criminals create fake websites that look like real company websites, in order to steal your personal information. Be cautious of links sent to you in emails. 'Phishing' emails include links to these fake sites. The best way to know that you are going to the real website is to type the URL directly in your browser, or use "favorites" to access the website. As a rule of thumb, when entering personal information on a site, look at the website address to be sure it starts with "https". Read more about secure sites.
Updated software helps protect against vulnerabilities. Install updates offered by your operating system and software provider(s) and use a current web browser.
Social networks such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and MySpace allow you to share your information online. However, there are pieces of information you should always keep to yourself. Think carefully about sharing your Social Security Number (including the last 4 digits), date of birth, personal phone number, home address, or where you were born. Criminals can collect this information and use it to open accounts in your name.
Be extremely wary of people you're connected to on social networks that ask for money through instant message (IM) or email. Fraudsters have been known to hack into social networks and assume the identity of a real user, then send messages to all of their contacts stating the person has been robbed or is stranded somewhere and needs you to wire money in order to get home. If you receive one of these requests, contact the person by phone and verify the request is real.
Malicious software (also known as 'malware') and computer viruses can be hidden in email attachments and other files downloaded from the Internet. Before you download anything, verify that you trust the source. Even when you receive files from friends and family, make sure your anti-virus software scans the files before opening them.
You have secure access to your accounts when you're online. Here are examples of online services that can help protect you against fraud:
Always verify that you are on a secure site before you enter your username and password. The address of a secure site begins with "https," rather than "http." It is OK for a home page to begin with "http", but you should always make sure you're on an "https" page before entering your password. You can also read security details of sites by "double-clicking" on the padlock icon located at the top or bottom of your browser window. View the security certificate to make sure it matches the site.
Always log off from your online session when you're done. This will help prevent anyone else using that computer from accessing your information.
Use passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) that are easy to remember, but hard for others to guess. Using a combination of upper case and lower case letters, along with numbers and special characters — where allowed — makes your password more secure. Names, birthdays and common phrases are easy for others to guess. Choose different passwords for each of your online accounts and change them frequently.
Never write down or store your passwords in a file on your computer. Don't share your username and password with others. Be cautious of sharing your usernames and passwords with sites, software, or services — especially when your personal information and money is involved.
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