Posted by:
Susan Johnston

Susan Johnston

January 21, 2015

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Protect Your Privacy Online

We’ve all heard horror stories about women who had their credit cards stolen by a cybercriminal or got their MySpace page hacked by a nemesis co-worker. These scenarios are not only embarrassing, but they can also be expensive to fix. Each time you enter a password, whether you’re checking your e-mail, shopping for shoes, or logging in to Facebook, you could be offering your personal information to hackers if you’re not careful. To help you avoid this, Symantec’s Internet safety advocate, Marian Merritt, shared some tips on preventing Internet fraud.

Create strong, distinct passwords. If your password is easily guessable by people who know you (like the name of your pet, your boyfriend, or your street), then it’s not a secure password. Ditto on words that are found in the dictionary, because hackers use databases to crack passwords. Merritt recommends that you “start with a phrase that means something to you, like ‘My favorite color is blue,’ and use the first letter of each word. ‘MFCIB’ means nothing to someone who just looks at it. Then pad that special password, maybe add a dollar sign and a number 3.” You can customize the password for each website you visit; for instance, you might add “a” at the beginning and “n” at the end for Amazon.com. Merritt strongly cautions against sharing your passwords with friends or boyfriends, even for seemingly harmless sites like Facebook or Twitter.

Be cautious about links in e-mails. Phishing is “when you get those spam e-mails from cybercriminals,” according to Merritt. Masquerading as your bank or a PayPal administer, the sender might claim that there’s an issue with your PayPal account or ask you to verify your bank account number. They’ll even create a website that looks strikingly similar to PayPal or an online banking site in an attempt to fool e-mail recipients into logging in. “If you get an e-mail saying there is some action required on your part, never follow a link on an e-mail,” Merritt says. Instead, you should type in the address yourself to make sure you’re going to the right place.

Use common sense when surfing in public. You never know who else is using the wireless connection at a coffee shop or the library. You also never know who might be looking over your shoulder. “Be careful about the activities you choose to do,” Merritt cautions. “Sitting in the airport [with your laptop] is not the time to be online shopping or online banking.” If you must use public Wi-Fi, always turn off file and printer sharing. Lastly, remember to log out of your MySpace page or your online bank account when you’re done using a friend’s laptop or a public computer. “Don’t just walk away or close the window,” Merritt urges. “Take that extra step to log out.”