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Caution is Key to Online Safety

Take a deep breath and Look Before You Click during the holiday season. More scammers, hackers and schemes abound at this time of the year, looking for holes to breach and get critical personal data. Here’s a review of our tried-and-true safety measures.

Watch your email. It’s one of the easiest pathways into your computer and all of your valuable personal data. At this time of the year, scammers and hackers take advantage of harried shoppers, who are likely balancing work and shopping and not paying full attention to all of their email.

Here are some identities a cyber-invader may assume to get inside your computer:

  • Bank or Credit Card Company
    • Do you have an account with that bank or credit card company?
    • Is it really one of their actual email addresses or domains?
    • Does your bank or credit card company normally contact you about this?

Your Best Course of Action: Close the email and go the bank’s or credit card company’s website to see if there are any alerts that match the email. If you’re still not sure it’s a fake message, get the phone number from the website and call. You can also look at a bank statement or credit card to get a customer-service phone number. Don’t click on any link in a questionable email.

  • Retailer or Shipper
    • Did you actually do business with that retailer?
    • Did you agree to use that shipper when you bought something online?
    • Are you being asked to click on a link?

Your Best Course of Action: Close the email. If you printed a hard copy of your order confirmation, you should be able to see the name of the carrier and a projected shipping date and delivery date and verify the information in the email. For protection, go to the retailer’s website and log in if you have an account. That should provide you with updated information on your order’s status. If the retailer has provided you with a shipper and a tracking number, go to the shipper’s website and enter the tracking number there. If you’re still not sure, call customer service.

  • Charitable Solicitations

Your Best Course of Action: Close the email. If it’s a charity you want to support, find its official website and give a donation there.

  • Email from a Friend in Need

Your Best Course of Action: Close the email. If you really think it’s legit, call your friend or send a new email with a different subject line. If that person is a close enough friend to send money, you should have full contact info – or know a way to get it.

When conducting business online, make sure you give your information over a secure website page. There are a couple of ways to check:

  • The website address begins with https
  • You’ll see a padlock icon in the address bar

Some other precautions to take include:

  • Buy from a large, reputable online or brick-and-mortar merchant. Generally speaking, retailers who work through Amazon or EBay have been vetted and have contact info posted online. If you’re not sure, buy from someone else.
  • Don’t send sensitive personal information by email. It’s too easy for someone to intercept it.
  • If somebody calls you about an account or purchase or charitable donation, you can ask to call that person back – and then go to a website to get a phone number you believe is trustworthy.
  • Make sure your antivirus, spyware, malware and firewall programs are up to date and running.

Above all, Look Before You Click. Make sure you understand exactly where a click will take you and what will be put on your computer. As Michael Conrad’s Sgt. Phil Esterhaus warned TV’s Hill Street Precinct police officers: “Let’s be careful out there.” And if you run into trouble, make your emergency call to us – 973-433-6676 – or send us an email.