The world is your oyster and if you want one, you can buy one online! The internet has revolutionised the way we experience our daily lives. Before the evolution of the internet, criminals had to dig through your trash or steal your mail to get to your personal information. Now, if not used carefully, all of this information is available to criminals online. At some point, we all have asked the question, ‘Will I end up being married to someone across the other end of the world if I give you my personal details?’ Well, here is how you can empower yourself when using the internet.
Many online services require users to provide some personal information in order to use their service. Personal information is any information that enables an individual to be identified. Personal information may include your full name, address, phone numbers, date of birth, email address, username and password and banking details. Personal information is used responsibly online by many businesses for legitimate communication. However this is not always the case and some personal information can be misused by criminals.
There are several online activities that may require a level of disclosure of personal information. First, is online shopping. The information is used to verify your identity as the purchaser, to process payments or for the delivery of goods. Secondly, subscribing or registering to a website. A user name, your date of birth or ID number and an email address are often minimum requirements. A red asterisk* generally identifies compulsory fields that are needed to register.
Lastly, are competitions and rewards. Online competitions often require you to provide personal data, including your interests and demographic details. This is used by the promoters to develop their marketing strategies or products.
The potential implications of sharing personal information online include but not limited to fraud and identity theft. Internet-based fraud is organised and uses the anonymity of the internet to steal information and resources for financial gain. Simple fraud scams can seek money or personal details directly from you, while others want personal information from you that will be misused to obtain money or information illegally.
Identity theft is a specific type of fraud that involves stealing money or gaining benefit (yeah, that marriage question crossed your mind again, didn’t it?) by the perpetrator pretending to be someone else. It can be financially and emotionally devastating. Fraud can occur in many ways, from somebody using your credit card details illegally to make purchases to having a person’s entire identity assumed by another to do illegal business under that name.
It’s important for you to understand how your personal information is used online and how you can manage and protect your information. Here are some tips to keep you safe online.
Only disclose financial information on secure websites
Your credit card details, bank account details, passwords or other personal information should never be sent electronically unless on a secure website. This may be indicated by a web address beginning with https:// and a ‘locked’ padlock symbol in the bottom of the screen, which indicates that data is being encrypted. The other simpler way to make sure a website is secure is to look at your address bar. It should appear green to indicate that it is secure and safe for use.
Providing information to your bank or financial services institution
Banking or financial institutions will never email you asking for your user name or password. If you receive an email by an organisation claiming to represent your bank or financial services institution report the email and do not respond or click on any links provided.
Read user agreements and privacy policies
It is important for you to read user agreements or privacy policies to determine how your personal information may be used in the future. Many companies use information for marketing purposes only.
Select passwords carefully
When creating passwords there are some definite dos and don’ts, these include; making your password at least eight characters in length, combining letters, numbers and upper and lower case letters and changing your password regularly. Don’t use pet names, birth-dates, family or friends’ names. Do not share passwords with others, even with friends or store them on the device or write them down. It’s important to change your passwords regularly to ensure that all personal information is kept secure.
Whilst we all have some hesitation on how safe our information is online, the truth is that if you follow the simple safety measures of only providing your information on secure websites, reporting suspicious emails claiming to be from your bank, reading users agreements and privacy policies and selecting your passwords carefully, you should not worry about falling prey to online scams.