How to stay safe from online fraud

Hacker

The web can be a great place, but not everyone online has good intentions. In fact, new scams seem to appear every day, and they’re only getting better. For that reason, it’s very important to educate yourself on online safety, and take the necessary precautions to best protect yourself.

Although implementing safety features and keeping your information secure requires a little bit of time and effort, it’s certainly not time wasted. As the saying goes, it’s better to be safe than sorry. This short article will outline some of the easiest, and most important steps you can take to better guarantee your online safety.

Choosing a password

When registering for nearly anything on the internet, you will be prompted to select a “strong” password. One that has both a capital and lowercase letter, a number and sometimes even a special character – all while being at least 8 characters in length. Sure, that makes for a safe password but how on earth can one remember this cipher? Well, for starters you’ll want to come up with it yourself, and not rely on a password generator.

When picking a password, try to come up with one that uses a combination of letters and numbers. You can easily do this by picking a phrase like “pizza is the best”, removing all vowels, and replacing them with numbers, likes so – “p1zz41sth3b3st”. At this point, you’ll want to make it a bit more secure by throwing in a few capital letters – say the second letter from each end – “p1Zz41sth3b3St”. From here, you just need to add a special character or two and you’ll be set – “p1Zz4~1sth3_b3St”

This password ended up being 16 characters, but the same strategy works on strings of any length. Just keep in mind, the longer your password, the more secure it is. When using the strategy outlined above, you’re not only creating a password that is easy to remember, but also one that is nearly impossible to guess.

Most importantly of all, remember to use different passwords at different sites and if you can’t remember them consider a password manager.

Shopping online

As a result of globalization, we as consumers have a virtually unlimited supply of goods that can be purchased online. For this reason, online shopping has been increasingly gaining popularity. As wonderful as online shopping is, every time you use your credit card online there is a risk that your information may be stolen. And although many large marketplaces and merchants try to make their website secure for shoppers, their safety is never guaranteed.

That being said, there are a few steps that you, as a shopper, can take to reduce your chance of having your credit card information compromised. For starters, it’s strongly advised that you use your credit card only on websites prefixed “https”, the “s” is important – as it indicates that the site is using a secure protocol to encrypt communications.

HTTPS VPNCompare

Address bar signals HTTPS usage

Next, you’ll want to ensure that you do not save your credit card information with the merchant. While keeping your credit card on file adds to the convenience of online shopping, it also adds unnecessary risk. In an event that the website gets hacked, your details will not be compromised. Keep that in mind next time you shop, and if there is an option of not storing your info, then make sure to opt for it.

Store Card Details

Do not store card details when possible.

Use a Virtual Private Network

Virtual Private Networks or VPNs are a great way to add an extra layer of security to your online experience. We live in an age where WiFi is widely accessible to the public, and often times for free. Be it the airport or your local coffee shop, WiFi hotspots make for easily accessible, convenient browsing. Using public networks, as convenient as may be, leaves you vulnerable, making you an easy target for any pair of prying eyes.

That’s where VPNs come in. A VPN secures your unsecure internet connection in order to guarantee that all of the data you’re sending and receiving is encrypted. Besides increasing your safety, using a VPN also greatly increases your online privacy and boosts your anonymity. As a nice secondary benefit, VPNs allows you to circumvent regional restrictions on various content scattered all over the web – allowing for a much more open and truly “world wide web” browsing experience.

When it comes to selecting a VPN provider, there are hundreds of options. To save you some time, there are two especially great providers – IPVanish and VyprVPN, both of which offer similar service at affordable price points. As an added benefit, both providers are also cross-platform – meaning they bring VPN to any internet enabled device. Regardless of which provider you choose, including a VPN in your browsing practice will benefit you in the long run.

IPVanish Windows 10 VPN

IPVanish VPN easily accessible via software.

Look out for phishing emails

Phishing is one of the most common types of email fraud. As a refresher – phishing is the practice of sending fake emails that are disguised to look as legitimate. This can go as far as to include official company logos and formatting, making them hard to spot with an untrained (and unexpecting) eye. A typical phishing email will include some sort of false claim about a customer’s account and link to a fake website set up to mimic the company’s official site.

Most commonly these emails will claim that your “credit card information has expired” or that “your account has been breached” and that you should change your password. These emails are sent out with the hope that the user will enter their personal information on the hoax site – which then allows the attackers to steal your data. For that reason, it wouldn’t hurt to err on the safe side and treat every email as a potentially risky one.

This means that if you do get an email saying that your credit card information has expired, do not click any links but visit the website directly. Alternatively, you can call the company directly and ask whether or not the email is legitimate.

Enable two-factor authentication

Two-factor authentication or 2FA adds an extra step to your log-in procedure in an effort of boosting security. Although you probably don’t think about it, you’re already using 2FA in many day to day activities out there in the physical world. For example when you take a trip to the ATM, you’re using your bank card (first factor) and then your pin (second factor) to access your account – so in theory, if someone has your bank card, they still can’t access your account without the pin – and vice versa.

What’s stopping you from implementing this extra layer of security in your online practice? Sure 2FA takes a little bit more effort to log-in, but, in the long run, the peace of mind of added security is more than worth it.

Now, there are many ways in which you can implement 2FA in your browsing regiment. The most secure of which, is likely an external hardware device. These tend to be very small and unobtrusive, and often times take the shape of a key chain fob. Similarly to the ATM card example, the hardware device will be required at the time of login, making it much more difficult for your account to be compromised.

YubiKey Tablet

YubiKey 2FA device.

If you’re considering 2FA then take a look at the YubiKey.

Image courtesy of pat138241 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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Author: Aleks Bahdanovich

When not writing about the latest tech, this Apple enthusiast enjoys building custom PC's, and designing a more aesthetic web. Using whatever free time is left, Aleks partakes in therapeutic kickboxing and action film-watching.

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