Every year about this time I have to reassess the Internet Christmas shopping situation. This year is unique, in that a highly contagious and potentially deadly disease has changed the way the world does business.
More than ever, billions upon billions of dollars in electronic form are flying down wires, bouncing to and from orbiting satellites, through the air and across the Internet. This keeps the Internet bad guys busy, too, working on newer ways to steal your money.
The criticality of having safe backups of your files has never been more urgent. That means you have separate copies of all your important family photos, financial documents, medical records, spreadsheets, tax returns, etc., kept on separate devices like external hard drives and online backup services like Carbonite. That’s the only defense you have against Ransomware attacks, where the Internet bad guys encrypt your files and hold them hostage for ransom.
Bogus scam phone calls are increasing at an accelerated rate. I get at least 10 calls a day now, on my business cell phone, from scammers pitching everything from free Medicare everything to reduced credit card interest rates. Some scammers try to terrify me into worrying that my Windows license has expired, or that the local sheriff is coming to arrest me because my Social Security number has been stolen, and I need to renew it, or else.
“Scareware” (software designed to scare you into doing something) is still a big problem this holiday season. There you are, merrily bouncing from one shopping website to the next, when, suddenly, a windows pops up telling you various lies, such as your computer has multiple viruses, needs new “drivers,” “registry errors” have been found, or the FBI has scanned your computer and is fining you for illegal activity. The bad guys are hoping these scams will scare you into paying them for phony repairs or protection you don’t really need. To learn how to thwart scareware scams, read the column on my website titled, “Careful where you click,” from March, 2011.
Fake shopping apps are becoming a problem, too, as more people mindlessly move their online shopping from semi-secure desktop and laptop computers to completely insecure “smart” phones. The only “smart” thing about these phones is that they help smart online crooks trick honest folks into installing bogus “help you shop” apps, thereby moving money from your account to theirs in a very smart way.
Watch out for scams on social networking sites like Facebook. Bogus “work from home to make extra holiday money” scams are turning up everywhere. Look out for fake “gift cards” and phony “gift exchange” scams that are also infesting all the social networking websites, not just Facebook.
As always, Internet safety is your responsibility. Keep your computer updated and patched. Use current, updated antivirus software. Beware of where you click. Research companies with which you wish to do business. Never answer or click on links found in unsolicited emails. Don’t believe emails claiming that UPS, the USPS or FedEx are trying to deliver a package to you, need you to pay your bill, or owe you a refund. Remember that your bank, as well as eBay, PayPal, Amazon and your Internet service provider will never send you an email saying, “You need to visit our website and update your personal information.”
Use strong passwords, and keep them secret. Use a Web browser (the program you use to visit websites) that complies with Internet security standards, and that lets you easily access its safety settings, such as Mozilla’s Firefox. Don’t pay for online purchases using checks, money orders or bank debit cards. Instead, use PayPal or credit cards which offer anti-fraud protection; at least those purchases are protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act.
If you pay bills or send any personal information using U.S. Mail, deposit that mail in collection boxes, rather than in the mailbox in front of your house. The lady who brings the U.S. Mail to my neighborhood actually stopped once and asked me if I had seen any suspicious people in the neighborhood. Turns out a gang of crooks had been raiding local mailboxes, stealing checks and bills, which can lead crooks to accounts and cash.
Finally, keep printed records of all of your purchases. Play it safe, and have a happy Internet shopping holiday.
Dave Moore has been fixing computers in Oklahoma since 1984. Founder of the nonprofit Internet Safety Group Ltd., he also teaches Internet safety community training workshops. He can be reached at 919-9901 or internetsafetygroup.com.
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