It’s as predictable as the Christmas decorations starting to appear right after Halloween. The FBI is reminding shoppers to “beware of cyber criminals and their aggressive and creative ways to steal money and personal information.”
Cyber criminals are certainly “aggressive and creative” all year long, but this warning isn’t so much about their activities. It’s about yours.
During the holiday season, we tend to be stressed, rushed and — hopefully — a bit giddy. Given that we’re moving quickly as we attempt to be as generous as we can be with those we love, we often let our guard down and make foolish mistakes.
The FBI offers 8 tips to assist you in your effort to keep crooks out of your Christmas stockings. But with all the lists we’re trying to keep in our head, trying to remember another one that long could distract you.
Focus is key. So we’ve boiled down all of their instructions into one tip then added two of our own that will make staying safe and private simple.
With a sharp mind, a clean machine and a private connection, you’ll increase your chances of disappointing online criminals — no matter how aggressive or creative they are. Plus, If you don’t want to see ads for the gift’s you’ve already purchased, F-Secure Freedome prevents those annoying targeted ads by blocking trackers that spy on your surfing.
Two of the top five sites on the internet are search engines, which makes a lot sense. We depend on them to find everything from the news to toothpaste to a place to eat dinner. According to internetlivestats.com, Google processes over 3.5 billion searches worldwide every day. Its rival Bing is rising to become the second largest search engine, accounting for 33% of all search queries performed. Now here’s the interesting part. Given these billions and billions of queries, can you be sure that all these search results 'harmless'? When you are clicking on a link Google, Bing or Yahoo! gives you, how do you know you are about to visit a site that is safe? You can't That's why you take simple precautions to make sure you don’t unintentionally visit malicious sites. The most convenient way to stay safe while using search engines is by using a free website safety rating service, such as F-Secure Search. F-Secure Search pre-screens the search results returned by a search engine and gives each result a safety rating. Harmful sites that try to violate your privacy or harm your device are clearly marked, so you know which sites are safe and which to avoid, even before you click on a link! Adult content is automatically blocked from search results, so you have peace of mind when your children are using F-Secure Search. Also, all communication between you and F-Secure is encrypted, so there’s no room for snooping. To help you keep both your personal details and your PC protected from malicious sites, simply go to search.f-secure.com and start using it today. You can also use F-Secure Search as the default search engine in your browser. And while we're you're thinking about surfing safely, take a minute to make sure your browsers are up-to-date. With a safe browser and safe results, you'll be surfing safer than ever.
We all know that there are scammers on the net, actually a lot of them. The common forms of scams are already well known, Nigerian letters and advance payment scams for example. But scammers do develop their methods to fool more people. I recently saw a warning about an interesting variant where the scammers ask for advance payments for travel services. This warning involved booking.com so you should be extra careful if you have used them recently. But the advices I share here are generic and not specific to booking.com anyway. The warning I refer to is in Swedish but I’ll provide the main points here in English. Here’s what happened according to the story. Someone books a trip on-line. Booking information leaks out to scammers somehow. This could be because of a hacking incident at booking.com, a crooked employee or maybe also through a hacked customer mail account. Now the scammers contact the customer. They claim to be the hotel and require advance payment for the stay. This can be quite convincing as they know what hotel has been booked and at what dates. The payment must be a wire transfer, credit cards are not accepted. Sadly, some customers fall for this and do the payment. They never see the money again and still have to pay the full price for the hotel. Here the key differentiator from ordinary scams is that the scammers have info about a valid purchase done by the customer. This enables them to be very convincing and impersonate the hotel (or some other provider of services) in a believable way. Fortunately it is quite easy to defeat this, and many other scam attempts, with some simple rules. Always pay your on-line purchases with a credit card. Period. If this isn’t possible, shop somewhere else instead. The credit card company acts as a buffer between you and the recipient of the payment, and adds a significant amount of security. Never use wire transfers of money. Period. This is the standard method for scammers as it is next to impossible to get transactions reversed. If someone claims that no other method is available, it is a very strong signal that something is wrong. If you have selected to pay by credit card, as you always should do, then it is a strong warning signal if someone tries to deviate from that and ask for money using some other payment method. Remember that it is next to impossible to verify the identity of the other part if someone contacts you. If you get contacted like this and have any kind of doubts, you can always contact the company you bought from to verify if they really have contacted you. The risk with credit cards is that your card number may be shared with several companies, like airline, car rental and the hotel, in the case of travel booking. Each of these may charge your card. Incorrect charges may occur either by mistake or deliberately. Always check your credit card bill carefully and complain about unauthorized charges. This is some extra work, but the customer will usually get unauthorized charges corrected. And a last hint not really related to scammers. Be careful with the grand total of your on-line purchase. Travel bookers are notorious for not showing the real grand total until at a very late stage in the purchase process. It is very easy to make price comparisons on figures that aren’t comparable. If possible, prefer honest sites that show you the real price upfront. Memorize these rules and the likelihood that you will be scammed is very small. The best way to fight scam is to not take the bait. So by being careful you not only save your own money, you also participate in fighting this form of crime as you make it less profitable. If you want to do even more, share the info and help others become aware. If you liked this post, you may also like the story about when I sold my boat. Safe surfing, Micke PS. The story I base this on was seen on Facebook. It is not verified, but I find it to be believable. It doesn’t really matter anyway if the story is true or not. The story is plausible and forms an excellent warning about Internet scams, which unfortunately is a widespread and very real form of crime. Image by Ho John Lee
If you're still a Windows XP user, you're probably singing a sad song knowing that after 12 long years Microsoft will end its support for the world's second most popular operating system on April 8, 2014. Microsoft warns you that if you continue to use its OS first introduced before the iPhone even existed "your computer will still work but it might become more vulnerable to security risks and viruses." And if that isn't enough to encourage you to upgrade or get a computer, maybe the fact that "you can expect to encounter greater numbers of apps and devices that do not work with Windows XP" will. But given the millions of PCs running the OS and the scarce amount of time and resources many people have, some people will certainly be XP users well after its "expiration date." If you're going to be one of these daredevils, our Security Advisor Sean Sullivan has some suggestions. "Folks that continue to use XP at home can do so with some reasonable amount of safety, but they absolutely need to review their Internet and computing habits as April draws near," he told us. And he broke down 7 ways to avoid the trouble from the criminals who will surely be targeting these unsupported systems. 1) Install an alternative browser -- not Internet Explorer. 2) Review the third-party software you've installed and uninstall anything that isn’t needed. 3) For the third-party software that you keep – consider disabling or uninstalling the browser plugins. Or at least set the browser to “always ask” what to do about things such as PDF files. (Personally, I always download PDFs to my desktop and open them from there. I don’t want the PDF viewer plugin installed, and I don’t like being in the habit of opening certain file types in my browser’s window.) 4) Have an up-to-date security product with antivirus and firewall installed. 5) Keep your XP computer connected to a NAT router, which will act as a hardware firewall. (Practically speaking, this means you shouldn’t be roaming around outside of your home with an XP computer. Don’t plug into a university network for connectivity – keep your computer at home on a trusted network.) As you can see, living in the past may not make life easy. But if it's your only option, you should at least try to stay as safe as possible. Cheers, Sandra [Image via Patrick Hoesly via Flickr.com]