Of scams and thefts

I read a six page article in Consumer Reports magazine that listed many fraudulent activities using identity theft and computer scams. Everything they say is accurate. There is a lot that can wrong.

We should not over-react to the list. They can also make a list of all the things that could go wrong with an automobile. We will still drive.

There are some actions we can take to reduce being victims: paid assistance and personal awareness.

There is little we can do to avoid theft of identity information. Often, data are stolen from businesses or government entities that retain our personal information on some database. Although we can’t stop the theft, there are some options to thwart the use of that stolen information. There are commercial services such as Lifelock, MetLife Defender, Equifax and Experian that, for a fee, will monitor your financial accounts. These businesses will give an alert if someone tries to use your information for activities such as opening a charge account. 

Bad guys are after money, so a close review of bank and credit card statements will alert us to unauthorized activity. Our family has twice been subject to credit card fraud where someone charged a large amount to our credit card, one in Georgia and one in Denmark. In both instances, we never had to pay anything. Credit card companies try to monitor unusual activity in their accounts.

There are two general purposes of a virus: an act of computer vandalism or to get money. In many cases we cannot avoid a computer virus. Some arrive when we are on the Internet minding our own business. However, there are common sense safeguards that will protect our finances:

• Never … NEVER respond to an email that asks you to update personal information. Even if it appears legitimate, close the message, then go to the website you trust and see if there is a problem with your information. 

• Avoid computer messages that popup to tell you there is something wrong and you should “click here” to fix the problem. Very soon you will be asked for credit card numbers, bank info or social security numbers.

• No, you didn’t win a big prize, the lottery or sweepstakes. If you follow this path you will not win money, you will lose your money.

• Stop … when you attempt to go to a web site and you are directed to another page that you did not request. Almost always, that is a virus at work. 

• Do not give credit card info to a site that solicits you. Provide that information to sites that you contact. You may wish to go to web sites such as JC Penney and use your credit card to pay. It should throw a red flag when you get an email from someone saying they are Penney’s and asking to update your personal information.

• Improve password security. Most people choose simple passwords and use the same ones in multiple sites because they are easy to remember … and easy for crooks to learn. The best passwords are combinations of caps and lower case, numbers and symbols. If you have many passwords maintain a password book in your home. It is especially important to have complex passwords for financial sites such as banking, credit cards, investments and other valuable places. One effective method for passwords is to create a phrase. For example: this is my bank and 99 SAVINGS ACCOUNT! Using the first letter of each word and the numbers, the password becomes this: timba99SA!  Easy to remember; very difficult to crack. Do not use the same password for other important locations. Computer programs such as LastPass (free) can help generate and securely store your passwords. 

To reduce the chances for theft, don’t use the Internet, a credit card or a bank. Avoid any business or agency that requests your personal information.  You will soon find it difficult to maneuver in today’s society. 

Take a chance with life. But … be alert. Be safe as you know how to be. 

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