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For years, people have been warned about keeping their personal information safe when working online. With the impact of COVID-19 leading to more people doing more of their daily work online, the potential for frauds and scams online has only increased. A recent UN study found a 350% increase in phishing websites in first quarter of 2020.
Now more than ever, your valuable personal information must be kept safe and secure. Employing common sense, along with some basic tools and tips, can reduce your risk of becoming a victim of a fraud or scam by helping you identify possible phishing websites or other potential cybercrime attempts.
Tip1- Pay Attention to Links
Phishing websites are often designed to have URLs, or links, that look similar to the website they are trying to emulate. For example, a website with a link leading to www.yah00.org might be a phishing site to take advantage of those looking to access Yahoo.com. Check the URL of a link by hovering your icon over the link. The URL will show in the corner of your browser or email. And whenever possible, type the URL into your browser instead of clicking on a link.
Tip 2 – Assess the Content of a Website
Another common tactic of phishing websites is to create sites that have the look and feel of commonly used websites. If, by accident, you have clicked on a link to a phishing site such as the example above, you may be taken to a website that looks and feels similar to the design of Yahoo.com. A phishing website, however, may have flaws that would not be seen on a professional website, including broken English, grammatical errors or low-resolution images. These are common red flags of phishing websites. Another sign of a phishing website is the absence of contact information or a “contact us” page, including the company’s postal address, telephone number, email address and social media channels. If none of these details are present on a website asking for your personal information, you should treat it as suspicious.
Tip 3 – Use Caution When Connecting to Public Networks
The convenience of online banking and financial websites allows users to access their financial records and complete transaction anywhere they can access the internet. But, not all networks are created equally when it comes to security. A coffee shop’s free Wi-Fi might not provide the same encryption and protections as your home router or computer network. Avoid accessing sensitive websites, such as personal banking sites, when utilizing a public or unsecured Wi-Fi network, and consider if the information you are submitting over the network should be seen or accessed by a third party. If you’re shopping or banking online, stick to sites that use encryption to protect your information as it travels from your computer to their server. The safest approach is to make sure the Wi-Fi network is protected and the website you are accessing has up-to-date encryption and security. If a website has “https” at the beginning of the web address, that means the site is secure.
Tip 4 - Keep Software Updated and Avoid Malware
Malware is a program or application a hacker can sneak onto your computer for malicious purposes, such as stealing your personal information. These types of programs can hide behind a number of seemingly helpful areas, waiting for you to inadvertently install them on your computer.
Outdated software is easier for criminals to break into. By setting your operating system and web browser to update automatically, you’ll close a common security gap that malware creators target. To confirm you have automatic updates set, search for the feature in your software’s settings.
Another common ploy for malware creators is to sneak pop-up messages into your browser claiming your computer has been scanned and found to have malware. Avoid following links from these unplanned messages, which frequently lead to phishing or malware websites. Using a pop-up blocker will help reduce the number of these malware attempts.
Even if you take precautions, malware can find its way onto your computer. So, be on the lookout for such signs as: your computer running slowly, battery quickly draining, displaying unexpected errors, changes to your home page or new icons or toolbars appearing without your permission.
If you suspect malware, stop doing things that require passwords or personal info, such as online shopping or banking until an IT professional can check your computer and identify any security breaches.
Tip 5 - Practice Password Management
Passwords are often the front line of security for websites. They’re the key to the front door of your online accounts. And, while new security protocols continue to work against unauthorized account access, stolen passwords will always be the easiest way for someone to breach your personal accounts.
Here are some common ways to make sure you practice safe password management while dealing with financial or other personal information online:
- Use at least 10 characters; 12 is ideal for most home users.
- Try to be unpredictable – don’t use names, dates or common words. Mix numbers, symbols, and capital letters into the middle of your password, not at the beginning or end.
- Don’t use the same password for many accounts. If it’s stolen from you – or from one of the companies where you do business – thieves can use it to take over all your accounts.
- Don’t share passwords on the phone, in texts or by email. Legitimate companies will not ask you for your password.
- If you write down a password, keep it locked up, out of plain sight.
Two-Factor Authentication (TFA) is another form of verification that makes it more difficult for a compromised account password to be used. Accounts that support two-factor authentication require both your password and an additional piece of information to log in to your account. The second piece could be a code sent to your phone, or a random number generated by an app or a token. This protects your account, even if your password is compromised. Make sure to take advantage of TFA on websites that provide this extra level of security.
Tip 6 - Create a Fraud Alert or Credit Freeze
If you’ve had your personal information compromised or are looking for added security, consider setting up a fraud alert on your credit report or you can freeze your report altogether to reduce the risk of fraudulent activity.
While all these tips will help provide a security-focused mindset when working online with personal or financial information, the easiest one to employ is common sense. If something looks wrong, doesn’t feel right or is different than how you would normally conduct business, trust your instincts and consider whether you should be sharing your information.
If something doesn’t look right, it’s probably not. Protecting your personal information is essential to your financial security. Keeping these helpful tips in mind can help you stay safe online.
More data privacy information is also available at https://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity-online-security and https://staysafeonline.org/.
The content provided is for informational purposes only and does not constitute advice. For specific details on how this may apply to your personal situation contact your personal financial advisor or insurance agent for more details. American Equity contracts are only sold through independent agents. Please contact your state insurance department to see if there is an independent insurance agent in your area appointed to sell American Equity annuity contracts.