Protect Your Passwords

From the July 2014 issue of Hark!

Managing your accounts once meant visiting banks and other financial institutions, and stopping by the post office to put payments in the mail. Online account access has simplified things and reduced the risk of mail fraud. However, just as you wouldn’t leave your bank statement lying around, you have to keep your online information secure.

Internet Security

Internet security specialists agree there are simple steps you can take to protect your information.

  1. Password protect all devices (e.g., smartphones, tablets and computers).
  2. Make sure passwords are complex—containing an uppercase letter, lowercase letter, number and symbol—and regularly change them.
  3. Never leave a list of your user IDs and passwords near your computer. Keep them in a locked file cabinet or drawer or hidden in case of a break-in.
  4. Don’t save a list of your user IDs and passwords on a file in your computer.
  5. Use antivirus/antispyware software (e.g., Bitdefender Antivirus), and keep your system updated. Free versions are available.
  6. Never open e-mails or download software from unknown or unverifiable sources or click strange links in instant messages.
  7. Don’t use your work e-mail account for personal communications. Instead, sign up for a free, online e-mail account (e.g., Gmail).
  8. Always sign out of online accounts and log off of public computers. This prevents unauthorized access to your accounts and prevents websites from keeping a record of other sites you visit.
  9. Clear your browser history and cookies regularly, or do it automatically. If you use Internet Explorer, go to the Control Panel. Under Browsing history, check “Delete browsing history on exit.” If you use another browser, the process may differ.
  10. Never provide your full Social Security number to any unknown source or use it for website login when other options are available.
  11. When selecting security questions, do not choose answers that are commonly known or easy to determine (e.g., your child’s name or birth date would be easy to find in public records).
  12. Make sure websites (such as banks) that handle sensitive information are secure (“https” in the address).
  13. Review your financial accounts regularly (e.g., bank, credit cards, retirement accounts). If you see unfamiliar charges or activity, contact your financial institution or creditor immediately.
  14. Don’t provide your e-mail address, phone number or ZIP code unless it’s necessary to complete a transaction. Say “no” when cashiers ask for marketing purposes.
  15. Don’t share personal information, such as your birthday or home address, on Facebook or other social networking sites, and only allow “friends” to access your page.

Beware of Scams

Most people have received at least one shady solicitation via the Internet, in the mail or by phone, and these scams are growing—and becoming increasingly complex. The following are five top scams identified by the Better Business Bureau and the National Council on Aging.

  1. Overpayment and fake check scams—Victims receive an unexpected check or one that is for a larger sum than they expect and are asked to refund the difference. The check later bounces, and victims have also lost the money they refunded to the check issuer.
  2. “Grandparent” or “emergency” scams—Victims receive a call from someone who claims to be a family member or friend who is in trouble. They ask for help and instruct victims to send money via a wire service. Victims later find out that someone was posing as a loved one and that they cannot get the wired money back. Wiring money is like sending cash because it’s nearly impossible to reverse the transaction or trace the money.
  3. Employment scams—Victims apply for a job that allows them to work from home and find out that they must purchase equipment or supplies, paid for via a wire service, before starting work. Sometimes these scammers also trick victims out of private information, such as Social Security numbers or banking information.
  4. Counterfeit prescription drugs—Victims purchase prescription drugs online at a much lower price than at U.S. pharmacies and receive fake, expired or mislabeled medications. Buy prescription drugs only from licensed U.S. pharmacies to ensure you don’t purchase items that could be hazardous to your health.
  5. Sweepstakes and lottery scams—Victims are notified that they have won a sweepstakes or lottery that they don’t remember entering. However, they must pay upfront for fees or taxes. After the money is sent, the prize never arrives.

Recourse for Scam Victims

If you may have been a victim, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and report it to your state Attorney General. If you are e-mailed spam, send it to

The best protection against fraud is good judgment. Don’t provide sensitive information to anyone you don’t know, and if a situation makes you uncomfortable, trust your instincts. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!


Hark! Home Page

July 2014 Hark! Articles

Protect Your Passwords

close (X)