Editorial: Protect yourself online against cybercriminals

Published 9:53 pm Tuesday, November 28, 2017

If you’re shopping online this holiday season, there are several steps we encourage you to take to protect your personal information.

According to the Internal Revenue Service, cybercriminals seek to turn stolen data into quick cash — either by draining financial accounts, charging credit cards, creating new accounts or using stolen identities to file a fraudulent tax return.

The IRS gives these suggestions to help with online safety:

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• Shop at familiar online retailers. Typically, sites with the “s” designation in “https” at the start of a URL are secure — though not always the case. Look for the lock icon in the browser’s URL bar.

• Avoid unprotected WiFi. Unprotected WiFi hotspots may allow thieves to view transactions. Also, beware of purchases at unfamiliar sites or from clicks on links from popup ads.

• Learn to recognize and avoid phishing emails that pose as a trusted source, such as a financial institution or the IRS. These emails may suggest a password is expiring or an account update is needed. The criminal’s goal is often to entice users to open a link or attachment.

• Use security software to protect against malware that may steal data and viruses that may damage files. Set it to update automatically to make sure it has the latest security defenses.

• Use passwords that are strong, long and unique — a minimum of 10 characters. Use a combination of letters, numbers and special characters, and use a different password for each account.

• Use multi-factor authentication such as a security code in addition to usernames and passwords.

• Encrypt and password-protect sensitive data. Back up important data to an external hard drive, and before disposing of computers, phones or tablets, make sure to wipe the hard drive of all information.

• Check your credit report annually to make sure no fraudulent activity has taken place. The three major credit bureaus offer a free credit report once a year.