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6 ways to protect your information and keep online scammers at bay.

Jordan August 07, 2014
Closeup of hacker hand coming out of laptop screen trying to steal or break a padlock on keyboard.
Phishing – not to be confused with the wholesome family pastime – refers to the practice of acquiring personal information through means of deception. In layman’s terms, it means tricking you into handing over credit card details, banking information, social insurance numbers and other sensitive details. As phishing schemes become more and more sophisticated, they’re also becoming harder to spot. We’ve prepared these six tips to help keep you on your toes, and your information where it belongs.

Employ common sense.

Phishing emails often succeed due to fear. For example, if you receive an email from someone claiming to be your bank, your credit card agency or even the government, they might attempt to retrieve your personal details by threatening your finances, services or credit. Here, the easiest way to stay protected is to employ common sense; if any of these agencies truly required your attention, they’d call or send a letter. Email is rarely (if ever) the preferred contact method for important matters such as these. If you do receive an email (or even phone call) and believe that it could be legitimate, follow our second tip.

Confirm the sender’s legitimacy.

If you’re not 100% sure the email was sent by a trusted source, call them! A bank, credit card or government helpline can easily confirm the legitimacy of any phone call, email or notice you received. Make sure to get their number from official documentation and not the email itself, which brings us to our third point.

Don’t open attachments or click any links.

Phishing emails generally include a button or link which leads the recipient to a site posing as the institution it’s impersonating. The site may be an identical copy, but the credentials you provide will get immediately stolen upon submission. If you’d like to check your credit, bank balance or other information, open a separate browser.

Keep your details private.

Phishing doesn’t only happen online. Clever criminals have been known to call their victims at home, posing as a representative of a popular service provider, and asking security questions in order to “validate” the call and discuss whatever fictional matter they’ve chosen. Obviously, once this information is retrieved (mother’s maiden name, first cousin, etc), it can be used to gain access into your account and steal personal information. To be safe, never provide personal information to anyone who calls. Instead, find the organization’s number and call in yourself in order to be sure you’re providing it to a staff member.

Protect yourself online.

When it comes to protecting yourself online, you can never be too careful. Anti-virus and anti-malware software are a great way to ensure that something you accidently download doesn’t wind up infecting your system and logging your input, so make sure to take advantage of free scanners and monitors available online.

Malwarebytes and SUPERAntiSpyware are great ways to clear suspicious malware and trackers from your computers, and viruses can be taken care of with Microsoft’s free anti-virus software.

Have you ever received a phone call or email that you suspect was a phishing attempt? How did you handle it? Feel free to share your stories in the comments section below!