10 Ways to Protect Yourself Online

As more Americans do more things online, Internet identity theft is a growing—and very costly—problem. Learn the best ways to protect yourself.

By James Van Dyke
  • Loading

    1. If You Fall Prey to a Scam, Report It

    If you’re a victim of online fraud, contact the authorities. You can file an online report with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)-a partnership between the FBI, the National White Collar Crime Center, and the Bureau of Justice Assistance. Also contact your local police to file a report. The more people who report such crimes, the more criminals are arrested.

    2. Guard Your Personal Information

    Never respond to requests for personal or account information online (or over the phone). When your social security number is requested as an identifier, ask if you can provide alternate information. Watch out for convincing imitations of banks, card companies, charities and government agencies. Use legitimate sources of contact information to verify requests for information, such as your financial institution’s official website or the telephone number listed on statements.

    3. Don't Overshare

    Don’t divulge your birth date, mother’s maiden name, pet’s name or any other identifying information on social media websites such as Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter.

    4. Stay Up to Date

    Install anti-virus software on your computer and keep it updated. Use the latest version of your web browser. Install security patches and software updates as soon as they are ready to install.

    5. Make it Difficult

    Use unique and hard-to-guess passwords. Don’t access secure websites using public Wi-Fi.

    6. Beware of Fake Online Sweepstakes and Contests

    All offers that require payment or private information before giving an award are bogus. Take the time to check out the validity of an offer. Ask for contact information from the sender and details about the company running the contest. Once you start asking a lot of questions and make it clear you won’t be pushed to make an immediate decision, most scammers will go away.

    7. Go Paperless

    Enroll in electronic statements, use direct deposit, and make bill payments online (to avoid mail theft).

    8. Don’t Believe the "Work at Home" Hype

    Thoroughly conduct a background check on the company offering the work-at-home position, making as many phone calls and Internet searches as you can. If in doubt, visit a local law enforcement office and ask their opinion. All offers to earn pay for re-shipping goods sent to your address are bogus. Tragically, some work-from-home scams not only enlist the individual to defraud others, they also make an identity fraud victim out of the individual!

    9. Ask What Your Bank Is Doing to Protect You

    Understand banks’ guarantees for fraud protection: all large providers now offer zero-liability protection for debit and credit cards, while a few offer a guarantee for online banking transactions.

    10. Keep a Close Eye on Your Finances

    Monitor your bank and credit card accounts weekly. Sign up for alerts to be sent to your mobile phone or e-mail. Monitor your credit and public information online to spot unauthorized activity. Free credit reports from each of the three major credit bureaus are available each year through annualcreditreport.com. Optional fee-based services offer more extensive monitoring of credit information, personal identity records, social security numbers and online transactions.