Accounting for Dummies: How to protect your identity online

Posted on Oct 29 2013 - 8:19pm by Bjorn Slater, Business and Ads Manager

Although most students have grown up with the Internet, it is still relatively new as far as marketplaces go. However, the Internet is far from primitive. Most people with bank accounts are able to make electronic purchases — the problem is doing it without having their identity stolen.

Identity theft is a reality for more than 15 million Americans annually according to www.identitytheft.info, and that doesn’t even include the 100 million people whose identities are put at risk each year by lost or stolen information from government and corporate databases.

Not all of these cases are online identity theft — the traditional methods of dumpster diving for bank statements and old bills still work for aspiring identity thieves — but for proficient “hackers” it is a simple task to take advantage of unsuspecting Internet users.

There are many things that Internet users can do to stay safe while browsing and especially shopping online. Here are some tips for guarding against online identity fraud:

Consider using a credit card instead of a debit card

Many credit cards come with built-in identity theft protection, so if a strange charge appears on someone’s credit card statement all they have to do is call their credit card company and the company will investigate the charge for them.

This means checking credit card statements more than once a month when the bill comes, as many companies have varying time limits on how long a charge can be disputed after it is charged to the card.

Debit cards offer less security because banks are less diligent about pursuing fraudulent purchases from a personal banking account versus a credit account that uses a credit card company’s money to make a purchase.

Only trust secure websites

One of the best ways to keep an identity secure is to stay on websites that have the “https” prefix and the little padlock in the search bar. When using sites that only have an “http” prefix, make sure anti-virus software is up to date and stay away from sites with unfamiliar names or sites that instantly open multiple pop-up ads without clicking anything.

Don’t open links in emails

Trustworthy businesses won’t send emails asking for additional financial information according to the Better Business Bureau, and even if the email seems legitimate, remember that it could be a scam site posing as a retailer. It is always safer to type in web addresses instead of clicking on links anyway, but fraudulent emails are especially risky.

Change passwords regularly

Most sites have different requirements for passwords, so Internet users end up with different usernames and passwords for each site they visit. Using a mix of numbers and upper and lowercase letters, while annoying to remember, makes passwords harder to crack.

Keeping track of passwords can be a hassle, but making a secure document with all of the different usernames and passwords will help keep them all straight. Avoid using Google Drive — a simple Word document saved to the hard drive of a personal computer is plenty secure as long as anti-virus and spyware software is up to date.

Be extra careful shopping on cell phones

Using mobile devices to shop is rising in popularity, but the shortened web addresses make it easier to trick consumers to visit harmful sites. Also, using public Wi-Fi hotspots while browsing may speed up connections, but can also make valuable personal information accessible to hackers. Avoid entering passwords or debit and credit card numbers while using public Wi-Fi.

These tips aren’t all it takes to stay safe online. Remember to be smart when browsing the web and a good rule of thumb is to never trust anyone met on the Internet who is a stranger in real life. Identity thieves are always lurking, but using good judgment and keeping these safe browsing tips in mind can help mitigate the risk of identity theft.