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Although the internet provides endless opportunities, it also contains many threats to your financial security and reputation. The amount of information people share online can jeopardize everything they’ve worked for instantly if it falls into the wrong hands.
Banks, government agencies, and other institutions have increased their security and investigations into cybercrime incidents to help protect your accounts and information. However, some cybercrimes can only be prevented by individuals. Here are the answers to your top questions about online security.
Table of Contents
- What are the Most Common Types of Online Crimes?
- How Do I Avoid Phishing?
- How Do I Know if I Have a Virus?
- What is Doxxing?
- Can I Prevent Identity Theft?
What are the Most Common Types of Online Crimes?
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, the most common online crimes in 2019 were phishing, non-payment/non-delivery scams for online purchases, and extortion. Phishing occurs when a hacker tricks you into putting your password into a fake website, which the hacker can then record and use to access your real accounts. Extortion, also known as blackmail, is usually targeted against an individual who has posted compromising information online.
Although many of these crimes are aimed at businesses and vulnerable populations like senior citizens, you could end up becoming a target yourself. Taking online security seriously and using every available precaution can help you avoid becoming a victim yourself.
How Do I Avoid Phishing?
The best way to avoid phishing is to double-check the URL of any website before inputting your email or password. Since phishing emails and text usually do a good job impersonating the real website, you can’t rely on the logo or other information in that email. However, clicking on the link could expose your computer to other threats or reveal your IP address.
Emails and texts demanding your login information usually claim that your information is urgently needed due to a security breach, missing credit card information, or other important matters. If you’re unsure if it’s a legitimate email, open a new tab and go to the website directly instead of using the link in the email. Once you’ve logged in to your real account, check for information there or send a message to the website owner asking if the email was real.
How Do I Know if I Have a Virus?
Malware and viruses are much sneakier than they used to be. Instead of slowing your computer down dramatically or spamming you with pop-ups, unwanted software may lurk in the background for years undetected. They may also be very difficult to remove on your own if you successfully identify them.
Your antivirus software will usually help you prevent viruses and malware in the first place, but they can also help you detect if one has already slipped onto your computer. Having solid antivirus software that continuously updates to identify new threats is essential to maintaining online security.
Other basic practices for prevention include avoiding suspicious links claiming to offer free money, important information, or account information. It’s also helpful to avoid file-sharing over unsecured Internet connections, like at coffee shops and airports. If you are very careful about your online activities and avoid unsecured files or connections, then your computer’s likelihood of having a virus is low.
What is Doxxing?
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Doxxing is the act of taking someone’s identity and contact information and publishing it online, usually in connection to extortion or exposing that person’s online activities. Doxxing takes place one of two ways: via a suspicious link that logs your IP address or via intense snooping by a stalker. The first is avoidable by never opening suspicious links, just like how you avoid phishing and malware.
However, doxxing and real-life stalking can still happen to just about anyone who posts enough personal information online. Even your photos and posts about your daily activities can paint a picture of where you or your children live or go to school. The safest way to prevent this type of doxxing is to keep your social media privacy settings as strict as possible and avoid adding “friends” you don’t know in real life.
Keep in mind that it’s easier than ever for people to find your address and phone number with just your real name and city. Use a pseudonym or just your first name on sites like Twitter, where lax privacy settings can be a breeding ground for online harassment that begins to affect your real life. Make sure your children never give away their school name or last name online, and if you live in a small town, make sure they never mention their town name.
Can I Prevent Identity Theft?
Identity theft can happen through a variety of methods, so even good online safety practices might not be enough to protect yourself and your family. Identity thieves take out loans and credit cards in your name with your social security number, bank information, drivers license number, and other information that institutions use to identify you.
Identity theft can happen when hard copies of documents aren’t disposed of properly or if you send personal information via an email or social media account that later gets hacked. It’s important to avoid sending your personal information online unless it’s directly to your bank or a government agency. Like with other possible crimes, always double-check the URL of the site you’re visiting to confirm its authenticity.
Fake online profiles are another potential form of identity theft. In these cases, thieves don’t even need your private personal information to impersonate you, as your name and photo may be enough to set up a convincing profile. They may use your name to try to steal money from others, send them viruses, or cause other problems.
These fake profiles are difficult to prevent, and your only method of recourse is to report the fake profile to the website owner. Make sure to warn your friends and family if you discover that someone else has been impersonating you online, especially if the website owner is being slow to remove the profile.
The challenges surrounding online security are immense, especially since hackers and thieves are getting smarter every day. However, being vigilant for online threats can help you avoid the most dangerous ones. Robust antivirus software is the backbone of online safety, but only you can avoid major threats like phishing and doxxing.
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