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Website Security Rules of the Road

In 2004, online consumer spending was at a record $65.1 billion.  More and more people are attracted to the ease of online shopping and are spending higher amounts.  Unfortunately, the chances of becoming a victim of Internet fraud are also increasing.  The Internet National Fraud Center Watch reported that the average loss to fraud victims for just the first six months of 2005 was $2,579.   This is compared to the $895 average for all of 2004.   Complaints relating to general merchandise purchases (goods never received or misrepresented) accounted for 30% of Internet fraud complaints, and auction purchases (goods never received or misrepresented) topped the list at 44%.

While many e-commerce Websites are reputable and have taken the necessary safety precautions to protect you, it never hurts to always proceed cautiously.  If you are making an online purchase consider these easy steps:

  1. Use only one credit card, preferably with a low credit limit, when making online purchases.  Avoid using an ATM or debit card.
  2. Be wary of unsolicited offers by sellers.  The Internet National Fraud Information Center Watch reported that email, as a method of contact by Internet scammers was up 22% in 2004.While the offer may be legitimate, spammers like to use this tactic to side-step reputable sites that provide consumer protection for online purchases.
  3. Use only reputable e-commerce websites that list a street address and telephone number in case you need to contact them directly.
  4. Read the website’s privacy policy.  Some websites may reserve the right to sell/give your information to a third party.  Check the document to see if they allow an opportunity to “opt-out” of receiving special offers from third-party vendors or for permission to share your personal information.
  5. Check for a lock symbol in the status bar at the bottom of your Web browser window.  Also, do not provide your personal information if the website address doesn’t start with “https” (a sign that the site is using a secure server).
  6. Choose only verified sellers.   Check to see if the vendor is a verified member of a reputable third party such as the Better Business Bureau, VeriSign, or Guardian eCommerce.  These third-party sites help to ensure online consumers will be protected when shopping or conducting e-commerce transactions.
  7. Check that the delivery date posted is reasonable.  If you have not dealt with the vendor on a regular basis, be wary of any Website that states the shipment will be delayed  20 or more days.  Delivery dates of 7-10 days are more common.
  8. Keep a paper trail of all online transactions.  Print out a hard copy of the transaction and keep it in a file for future reference.
  9. Be wary of website offers that just sound too good to be true.  The Internet is littered with get rich quick scams and false advertising claims.  Investigate all claims thoroughly before proceeding.
  10. If you do not receive what you paid for, and the vendor will not return your emails or calls, contact your state’s Department of Consumer Affairs for further assistance.

June 12, 2008 Posted by | tips | Leave a comment

Securing Your Computer System

Today, more and more people are using their computers for everything from communication to online banking and investing to shopping.  As we do these things on a more regular basis, we open ourselves up to potential hackers, attackers and crackers.  While some may be looking to phish your personal information and identity for resale, others simply just want to use your computer as a platform from which to attack other unknowing targets.  Below are a few easy, cost-effective steps you can take to make your computer more secure.

  1. Always make backups of important information and store in a safe place separate from your computer.
  2. Update and patch your operating system, web browser and software frequently.  If you have a Windows operating system, start by going to www.windowsupdate.microsoft.com and running the update wizard.  This program will help you find the latest patches for your Windows computer.  Also go to www.officeupdate.microsoft.com to locate possible patches for your Office programs.
  3. Install a firewall.  Without a good firewall, viruses, worms, Trojans, malware and adware can all easily access your computer from the Internet.  Consideration should be given to the benefits and differences between hardware and software based firewall programs.
  4. Review your browser and email settings for optimum security.  Why should you do this?  Active-X and JavaScript are often used by hackers to plant malicious programs into your computers.  While cookies are relatively harmless in terms of security concerns, they do still track your movements on the Internet to build a profile of you.  At a minimum set your security setting for the “internet zone” to High, and your “trusted sites zone” to Medium Low.
  5. Install antivirus software and set for automatic updates so that you receive the most current versions.
  6. Do not open unknown email attachments.  It is simply not enough that you may recognize the address from which it originates because many viruses can spread from a familiar address.
  7. Do not run programs from unknown origins.  Also, do not send these types of programs to friends and coworkers because they contain funny or amusing stories or jokes.  They may contain a Trojans horse waiting to infect a computer.
  8. Disable hidden filename extensions.  By default, the Windows operating system is set to “hide file extensions for known file types”.  Disable this option so that file extensions display in Windows.  Some file extensions will, by default, continue to remain hidden, but you are more likely to see any unusual file extensions that do not belong.
  9. Turn off your computer and disconnect from the network when not using the computer.  A hacker can not attack your computer when you are disconnected from the network or the computer is off.
  10. Consider making a boot disk on a floppy disk in case your computer is damaged or compromised by a malicious program.  Obviously, you need to take this step before you experience a hostile breach of your system.

May 13, 2008 Posted by | tips | Leave a comment