Protecting Your Identity Online


July 14, 2014

It seems that everything is on the web these days. If it's not available for free, then it's available for a price, from the answers to a problem in a textbook to the link to someone's social networking profile.

With all of this there are great advantages. For example, if a person was to Google the phrase "pollution filtering scarf" they would be find a company called Scough, a Brooklyn fashion co. that makes scarves with a military-grade air filter between the cloth.

This is great for the consumer and the Scough people, but there is also a dark side to being online, and it usually involves scams and viruses.

Web Scams to Look out for

Phishing is usually the biggest problem for most people. This is a con that involves sending emails that look as though they are legitimate in an attempt to get a hold of personal information.

For example, in the early days of phishing AOL account holders would be contacted via instant message by someone who appeared to be with the company. This person would obtain the user's password and other data, and then use it however they liked for the time that they could.

Today, phishing takes the form of emails with links that appear to be to legitimate sites we use on a regular basis, like our bank. When the link is clicked it leads to a site that is a "spoof," and the information keyed in is now obtained.

The key to avoiding phishing scams is to never give out your personal information. In addition to this, do not click links from emails unless you know the person sending it to you, and (to be safe) they can confirm they sent it.

Only Shop on Reputable Sites

Adding to the "spoof" site scam, there are some companies that have items you need or want, but do not have the security they to handle sensitive information, namely a credit card.

This is why when you do go shopping on the web, remember that there are many sites that are loaded to the hilt with top security protection. Big companies have teams of tech people who are working to constantly safeguard the data on the site and keep intruders out.

This does not mean that shopping at a big company is completely safe. After all, there was an incident last year when Target credit card holders found that they were the victims of hacking. The breach had a potential toll on 40 million people.

However, what is important to realize is that while this occurred and made big news, the big news was that it was happening at Target. During the same year, according to the FTC, 1 out of every 1200 non-cash transactions was fraudulent. This means that for the 122 billion transactions that took place in 2013, almost 97.6 million were the result of fraud.

This is not to downplay the significance of the Target breach, but as a result of the announcement their credit department was working overtime to reissue new cards, securing the safety of their customers before any problems arose for the bulk of them.

This leads some to realize that when it comes to safety measures with money, cash transactions may be cleaner.

Another way to protect yourself is to make sure that when you give to charity you do so with organizations you are familiar with and that the site is secure.

Only Donate to Secure Charity Sites

While charities are always thrilled to take a check or cash donation, the newer charities are more tech savvy. One example is Portfolios With Purpose, a 501(c)(3) that is centered around an online fantasy stock market game. Given that the setup is online, and the charity is only 3-years-old, it makes perfect sense that the bulk majority of the people who play this game contribute their funds online.

Add to this that the Chief Operating Officer is Joshua Williams, a tech guru who has a background in protecting the assets and information of billion-dollar asset bases, and that the site is trusted by some of the wealthiest people in the country (note the Master Class of players), it is evident that this particular charity is not just some run-of-the-mill operation.

Having said this, though, donating with a check or cash is going to be the safest bet with giving to charity. This is not to say that a church or other organization cannot have a site that is as secure as Portfolios With Purpose, because they can; it is merely pointing out that when the digital trail is eliminated, the path for the transaction to be intercepted is cut off.

Conclusion and Recap

Protecting your identity requires a level of diligence in today's environment, especially for those who are new to the Internet.

The best ways to guard your personal information are to:

Understand phishing scams
Only shop at reputable online stores
Only give online to charities with top-notch security

Phishing scams can be done over the phone or even in person, but they typically approach through an email that appears to be legitimate. The email has a link that leads to a site that appears to be what it says it is, and this is how they get others to type in their personal information.

Reputable online stores have better security because they have a high-end tech team. The quality of site maintenance on a billion-dollar retail site can be equated to that of the Secret Service when they guard the President, but with more sitting and Red Bull.

Lastly, there are some sites that are secure when it comes to charity, but many charities are small and their dedication to web security may not be within their budget. For those that prove otherwise, feel free to be generous online, but when it doubt, write a check.

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