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Online fraud and cybercrime have become increasingly prevalent in recent years, posing a significant threat to individuals and their sensitive data. While many people are aware of these dangers, they often unknowingly put themselves at risk. In order to combat scammers and protect yourself and your family, it is crucial to take proactive measures to safeguard your accounts, identity, and data. This article provides a comprehensive checklist of over 45 fraud prevention tips that you can implement to enhance your online security in 2023.
Preventing Financial Information Theft
Financial fraudsters can gain access to your online banking information, credit card accounts, and other financial documents, leading to devastating consequences such as the depletion of your savings, unauthorised purchases, and identity theft. To protect your financial information from these scammers, consider the following tips:
- Store sensitive documents securely: Keep important documents, such as your birth certificate, Social Security number, passport, bank statements, and unused credit cards, in a secure location or safe to prevent theft.
- Never provide sensitive information over the phone or via text/email: Financial institutions will never ask for your passwords, PIN numbers, or account numbers. Be cautious of callers posing as representatives and requesting this information. If in doubt, disconnect the call and verify the legitimacy of the request by contacting the institution directly.
- Avoid sending sensitive information via text or email: Text messages and emails are not secure or well-encrypted channels for sharing personal or financial data. Refrain from transmitting PINs, credit card numbers, passwords, or any sensitive information through these means.
- Utilise additional safeguards for your accounts: Many financial institutions offer extra security measures such as voice verification or push notifications for mobile banking transactions. Enrol in these features to enhance the protection of your accounts.
- Keep contact information up to date: Ensure that your financial institutions have current contact information so that they can reach you in the event of unusual account activity.
- Create strong and unique PIN numbers: Avoid using numbers that can be easily guessed, such as your birthdate or phone number. Shield the keypad when entering your PIN at ATMs or checkout lanes, and never write it down or store it in your wallet or purse.
- Be cautious at gas station pumps and outside ATMs: Scammers often install card skimmers at these locations to obtain your card information. Minimise the use of your cards in these areas to reduce the risk of falling victim to skimming devices.
- Utilise encrypted digital wallets: Digital wallets provide an added layer of security by using a digital card number instead of your direct debit or credit card information during purchases.
- Prefer credit cards over debit cards: While credit cards may seem similar to debit cards, they offer greater security and protection against fraudulent activities. Credit cards typically provide zero liability policies, allowing you to dispute unauthorised charges and minimise the impact of fraud.
- Opt for paperless billing and statements: By signing up for online billing and financial statements, you can prevent criminals from stealing your sensitive information from physical mailboxes.
- Shred documents containing PII and financial data: To prevent fraudsters from accessing your personal information, shred documents such as bank statements, credit card offers, medical bills, and paystubs before discarding them.
- Dispose of old, expired cards: Safely discard old cards as soon as you receive and activate a new replacement or upgrade to minimise the risk of unauthorised use.
- Collect mail daily and set up mail forwarding: Regularly collecting your mail and forwarding it when necessary reduces the chances of mail fraud, which can lead to identity theft or financial losses.
Protecting Yourself on Social Media
Social media platforms can provide cybercriminals with valuable information that they can exploit to commit fraud. By taking the following steps, you can enhance the security of your social media accounts:
- Limit the information you share online: Avoid sharing personal details such as birthdays, pet names, hometowns, employers, and other sensitive information that fraudsters can use to target you.
- Set your social profile settings to private: Restrict your contacts to people you actually know and avoid accepting friend requests or direct messages from strangers.
- Monitor your child’s social media accounts: Children are often targeted for identity theft due to their clean credit histories. Ensure that your child’s social media accounts are private and educate them about the importance of not sharing personal information online.
- Be cautious of tagging your location in photos: Tagging your location in photos, especially when you are at home or on vacation, can give away valuable information to potential scammers.
- Exercise caution when clicking on links: Avoid clicking on hyperlinks in social media posts, even if they are from sources you know. These links may lead to malicious websites or phishing attempts.
Avoiding Phishing, Smishing, and Vishing Scams
Phishing, smishing, and vishing scams involve fraudulent communications that trick individuals into disclosing their personal information. To avoid falling victim to these scams, consider the following precautions:
- Do not open or respond to unsolicited emails or texts: Be wary of emails or text messages from unknown senders, as scammers may use various tactics to deceive you into interacting with them.
- Avoid signing in to accounts using links in emails or texts: Instead of clicking on links provided in emails or texts, directly access the website by typing the URL into your browser to safeguard your login credentials.
- Exercise caution with links and attachments: Even if the sender is familiar, be cautious when opening links or attachments in emails, sponsored content pop-ups, or texts. Hover over links to verify their safety, and avoid scanning QR codes from unknown sources.
- Familiarise yourself with trusted shortcodes: Financial institutions often use five-digit shortcodes to securely communicate with customers. Add these trusted shortcodes to your contact list to differentiate legitimate messages from fake ones.
- Use different passwords for each financial account: By using unique passwords for each account, you minimise the risk of multiple accounts being compromised if one password is stolen. Consider using a password manager to help you keep track of your passwords.
Securing Your Online Data and Mobile Devices
As online activity and the number of connected devices continue to increase, it is essential to secure your online data and mobile devices. Follow these tips to enhance your online browsing safety:
- Only browse secure websites: Look for the closed lock icon and “https://” in the browser address bar to ensure that you are accessing secure websites, especially when engaging in online shopping.
- Enable location services and permissions: By enabling location services and location-based security permissions, you can receive alerts when someone signs into your accounts or makes purchases from unfamiliar locations.
- Consider using a VPN: A virtual private network (VPN) creates a secure encrypted tunnel between your devices and a web server or email host, protecting your data from cybercriminals. Utilise a trusted VPN service to browse online with confidence.
- Lock your devices with passcodes and use biometrics: Secure your devices with a passcode and consider using biometric features such as Touch ID or facial recognition for added security. Avoid sharing these features with individuals who may have unauthorised access to your device.
- Avoid altering or removing carrier restrictions: Modifying your devices can expose them to malicious attacks or spyware. Refrain from altering or removing carrier restrictions to maintain the integrity of your device’s security.
- Avoid storing passwords or sensitive information on devices: Storing passwords and sensitive information on devices increases the risk of compromise in the event of a data breach or theft. Be cautious and avoid saving sensitive information on your devices.
- Download apps and programs from trusted sources: Only download apps and programs from reputable sources to minimise the risk of downloading malware or spyware onto your devices. Avoid downloading unknown or open-source apps, especially free mobile games.
- Keep your devices up to date: Regularly update your browsers, operating system, devices, and antivirus software to protect against known and emerging cyber threats. Enable automatic updates to ensure that you receive the latest security patches.
- Wipe devices before selling or discarding: Before selling, trading, or discarding your devices, perform a factory reset to erase all personal information stored on them. This prevents hackers from accessing your data.
- Avoid using public or shared Wi-fi networks: Public Wi-fi networks are often targeted by hackers for man-in-the-middle attacks. Avoid using public Wi-fi at locations such as coffee shops, airports, and libraries to protect your sensitive information.
- Secure your home router: Set a strong password and enable WPA2 or WPA security on your home router to prevent unauthorised access. Consider reserving a Guest access mode to avoid sharing your password with visitors.
- Research cloud data providers: Before storing financial information, passwords, or other data in the cloud, thoroughly research the security and privacy settings of the provider. Ensure that your data is protected and that the provider has appropriate measures in place in the event of a data breach.
Becoming a Secure Password Professional
Passwords play a crucial role in protecting your online accounts. By following these guidelines for creating and safeguarding your passwords, you can enhance your online security:
- Use hard-to-guess passwords: Create complex passwords by combining letters (both uppercase and lowercase), numbers, symbols, punctuation, and uncommon phrases. Opt for longer passwords with a minimum of ten characters.
- Avoid using personal information in passwords: Refrain from using easily guessable information such as your pet’s name, family members’ names, birthdates, addresses, or other personally identifiable information (PII).
- Do not recycle or reuse passwords: Using the same password for multiple accounts increases the risk of multiple accounts being compromised if one password is stolen. Avoid reusing passwords to mitigate potential damage.
- Regularly change your passwords: Set reminders to change your passwords on a regular basis. By doing so, you reduce the likelihood of unauthorised access to your accounts.
- Avoid sharing passwords via text, email, or social media: Prevent unauthorised access to your accounts by refraining from sharing passwords through insecure channels. This is especially important when sharing streaming passwords connected to your financial information.
- Activate Two-Factor Authentication (2FA): Enable 2FA whenever possible to add an extra layer of security to your accounts. This authentication method requires an additional step, such as receiving a unique access code on your mobile device, before granting access to your accounts.
- Utilise a password manager: Consider using a password manager to securely store and manage complex passwords for each of your accounts. Use a strong master password to access the password manager itself.
Avoiding and Reporting Identity Theft
Identity theft is one of the most common types of fraud, and it can have severe consequences for individuals. To prevent and respond to identity theft, follow these steps:
- Turn off or disable lost cards and report stolen checks, account numbers, etc.: Promptly report any lost or stolen cards, checks, or account numbers to your financial institutions, even if you believe you have only misplaced them.
- Freeze your credit file: Place a credit freeze with the three major credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) to make it difficult for fraudsters to open lines of credit or cause financial harm using your identity.
- Report potential identity theft cases to Action Fraud. This helps protect yourself and alert law enforcement to the criminals involved.
- Review your credit report annually: Regularly review your credit report for any unauthorised accounts, suspicious loans, or fraudulent credit enquiries. You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus per year.
- Consider enroling in credit monitoring services: Credit monitoring services, such as those offered by Aura, can provide real-time alerts regarding account activity and changes to your credit file. These services help you detect and respond to potential fraud quickly.
By implementing these online fraud prevention techniques, you can significantly reduce your risk of falling victim to scammers and protect yourself and your family from the devastating consequences of cybercrime and identity theft. Stay one step ahead of fraudsters and safeguard your digital life by taking proactive measures to enhance your online security.