This was originally published on Monday, July 14, 2014, in the Pacific Daily News. Click here to subscribe to the PDN.
Technology makes our lives easier. Many errands that we had to perform in person can now be done online or even on your phones. This convenience is wonderful, but it also makes it convenient for people who want to steal your identity. There are some precautions that you should heed while online:
• Firewall: A firewall is like large concrete walls around your computer. It protects your computer, allowing or blocking specific outgoing and incoming traffic. Some firewalls can even prevent other computers from connecting to yours. Although firewalls are not foolproof they do make it more difficult for your computer to be hacked.
• Anti-virus/Anti-spam: Many threats that attack your computer can come from emails, websites or pop-ups. Anti-virus/spam programs can identify if a virus or spyware is downloaded to your computer. Most will scan your emails and attachments and let you know if they are safe to open.
• Social media: Be careful of what you post online. Don’t disclose personal information such as birthdays, telephone numbers or addresses. Adjust your privacy settings to control what can and cannot be shared or who can see your information.
• Email: Never open an email from someone you don’t know. Be leery of emails that request your password, date of birth or Social Security number. Many of those emails may look legitimate, especially if it comes from a bank or company you do business with. Many financial institutions don’t ask for sensitive information by email. Create a second email address for shopping, gaming and other recreational accounts. Use your primary account to email friends, family and business you know and trust.
• Passwords: Create strong passwords that use upper- and lowercase letters, numbers and special characters. Don’t use the same password for other accounts and change them frequently. Keep your passwords in a secure place.
• Online shopping/payments: Use encryption software that codes all your information you send from your computer to online sites. Before entering payments online, look for a “lock” icon or “https” at the beginning of the web address. This verifies that the website is secure. Sometimes these sites still can be hacked. Monitor your credit card statements regularly to ensure your account has not been compromised. Be sure to read the company’s policies and agreements before making payments. Sometimes companies use a third-party vendor and the company that is debiting your account doesn’t carry the same name. Usually the site will inform you of this situation.
• Wi-Fi: Many places now have complimentary free Wi-Fi for public use. Although convenient, these connections aren’t secure and are easily hacked. Don’t conduct banking or personal business using public Wi-Fi.
• Shoulder surfing: When you are in public, it is easy for someone standing in line or sitting beside you to watch you enter your password or PIN. Be aware of your surroundings when using your smartphone, tablet, computer or ATM.
• Disposing of a device: Before you sell or get rid of your old computer, tablet or smartphone, completely erase the hard drive. The hard drive keeps all the information you stored on your device. By erasing your hard drive, you are ensuring that your information will not be passed along. Look at your owner’s manual on how to wipe the device clean. You also could purchase a utility wipe program for your computer.
Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at email@example.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.