Consumer Corner Column

Consumer Corner: Surf safely and click carefully

Release Date: Oct 29, 2012

By Kansas Attorney General Derek Schmidt

With just a few clicks on the Internet, you can pay your bills, order dinner, make vacation plans or secure a loan. As the holiday season approaches, many of us will be shopping from retailers worldwide and having their products shipped right to our front door. But with this cyber-convenience comes the responsibility to protect ourselves and our families from hackers who are looking to steal personal and financial information.

You should always be willing to upgrade to the latest in computer security technology. It also helps to apply caution and common sense to actions you take while surfing the Internet. Cyber criminals are just like all other criminals — they are opportunistic. They look for your online weaknesses and mistakes. If you allow yourself to be fooled by spam, phishing emails or phony web offers, you could be providing information that allows a criminal to wipe out bank accounts and steal identities.

To protect your personal information and prevent online oversights, consider the following tips:

  • Keep your anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewalls current. Your security settings and software are critical to keeping computer hackers from gaining access to your computer.
  • Don’t save personal information including resumes or financial records on your hard drive. Save them to a disk or thumb drive. Ask yourself what a hacker could find out about you if they accessed your stored documents.
  • Use passwords or answers to security questions that only you would know. A little research on the Internet can help thieves find the answers to common security questions such as your mother’s maiden name. Make up an answer that only you would know.
  • Know whom you’re dealing with. Don’t click on links that are listed in an e-mail to you. Type the web addresses directly into your browser or use a trusted search engine. Spammers frequently use spoofed links in emails to direct you to fake websites to steal your information.
  • Be cautious shopping online. Fraudulent but convincing retail websites are often created so that a hacker can steal your information or take your money. Look for the retailer’s physical address and telephone number and confirm that they have a secure website.
  • Read the fine print and ask the company for more information about products or services if needed. Make sure you know the total costs, delivery date and any cancellation or return policies. Print out or save this information in your email so you have documentation.
  • If you’re buying items through online auction sites, be sure to check the seller’s reviews from past buyers. Also make sure you understand the shipping costs and return policy, as these can vary by seller. Make sure the site has adequate buyer protection policies in case of fraudulent sales.

The Kansas Attorney General’s Office works to protect Kansas consumers. Following a few simple guidelines will help prevent cyber criminals from taking advantage of you. If you think you have been victimized by an online scam, contact the Kansas Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Hotline at 1-800-432-2310 or visit www.ag.ks.gov.

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