by Jonathan Weinberg, Spring Chicken’s Technology Editor.
The internet can be a wonderful resource for learning, finding out information, staying in contact with friends and family and having fun. But the online world is also home to cyber criminals, scammers and criminals committing fraud meaning it’s not always a safe place to inhabit.
We don’t want to scare you but it’s wise to always keep this in mind when using the web. And to help you avoid becoming a victim, here are some tips to stay safer when using the internet on a computer, mobile phone or tablet.
Create strong passwords
We all use passwords for internet banking, email accounts, online shopping or other subscription services. But using the same password, or very similar ones, across all of your accounts can be dangerous. If one is found out, it could be used to work out some of the others.
Never use simple passwords such as common words or phrases or runs of numbers such as 1234. Instead mix up your passwords.
You can make them easier to remember by using something that is personal to you in relation to the account it’s for.
But then always create passwords that contain a mix of upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols such as @ or $. This makes them more secure.
Install virus protection
If you are using a PC computer, it is advisable to always have internet security protection installed to protect you from computer viruses.
This doesn’t have to be expensive. Many brands such as Norton, McAfee and Trend all do a similar job and can be bought for around £30 per year.
They are simple to install and will create a barrier – known as a Firewall – between you and a range of online threats.
But like all technology, they are not infallible. Which is why you need to follow all of our tips alongside using such software.
Don't click on unrequested links or files to download
Whether you’re viewing Facebook, reading an email or checking out websites, you’ll constantly be confronted with links to click on.
The vast majority are safe but often you will receive messages or emails you never requested containing website links that can secretly download viruses.
They can also be a way for criminals to direct you to fake websites or forms created purely to steal your details.
For example, an email pretending to be from your bank might send you a link to a statement you didn’t ask for or attach one to the email to download and open.
Or a Facebook message may arrive from a friend saying “check this out”.
Always be cautious. First confirm with a friend if they did send you something legitimate.
Sometimes they won’t realise their own account has been compromised and is sending out unsolicited messages.
And remember, financial institutions will never send such things out without warning or request so if they do, just delete them. Do not click on them. If in doubt, ring them up and ask.
Ignore requests for information
Sometimes emails might claim they need you to click a link to confirm your personal information, logins, user IDs, passwords or credit card details. Never do this.
This is known as Phishing. It’s when criminals masquerade as legitimate organisations to steal your information to commit identity and financial fraud.
Once again, remember, real financial institutions will never do this.
Always be guarded. You can often quickly spot phishing emails with a quick look.
Always check the actual name in the email matches the email address. Often they won’t be the same and the email address will look very random indeed.
You might also notice that the link itself appears not to be the website you are actually used to typing in.
If in doubt, ring up the real company, or email them directly from their own website rather than replying to the email you received, and ask for clarification.
If it looks to good to be true
As the old adage goes, it usually will be too good to be true if it looks like it is.
So be careful when shopping online. Sites promising extremely cheap offers or bargains can often be fronts for fraudsters.
You might think you are ordering a product but what you are actually doing is giving them all your personal details.
This could include your address and credit card numbers. Where possible, only buy from reputable and well-known companies.
Otherwise always check out websites for a real address and telephone number.
Call them up if you’re unsure or search online for their name to see if anyone else has reported problems with them.
Look for signs of security
When inputting any personal information into a form or paying for things on the web, there are some steps to take to stay secure.
Website addresses that begin “https://“ are secure and will be used on pages whenever you need to type in financial information such as credit card details.
Often there is also a padlock icon too but it is the “s” in “https://“ that is the most important thing to look for.
Pages where you are entering passwords should also have these. Otherwise the information you type will not be encrypted and could be intercepted by criminals.
Be wary of email stories or offers
If you receive an email promising that you’ve won the lottery or some other competition, always treat it with a pinch of salt.
The first question you should ask yourself is did you even enter it in the first place.
You might also get emails that look like they’ve come from family members or friends claiming all sorts of things such as they’ve been attacked, robbed or lost money.
Again, this generally means their own email account has been compromised and is being used by criminals to tempt others into falling for a scam.
Never click links in these emails and never send money. If you’re worried, call the person and check whether they really do have a problem.
Phone calls can be fraudulent too
One newer scam is to ring up a person and tell them there’s a problem with their computer.
The caller might pretend to be from an internet provider or other “helpful” and “related” company.
They are just trying their luck.
What they want is for you to download software to your computer that allows them to log on to it and steal information.
They might also download files to it called “Ransomware” that locks your computer and requires a payment to be made to unlock it.
Never deal with people like this on the phone. Especially if you never asked for them to call in the first place. Just put the receiver down.
For more information or to find out more about different types of online crime, scams and fraud, check out http://www.actionfraud.police.uk/