4.03.2009

Simple Protective Measures

There are an awful lot of people on the internet that don't know some basic mechanisms to protect themselves from identity theft online. So I thought I'd share a few.

Spam is garbage or snake oil. Do not ever respond to it. Don't reply, don't click links and don't ever, ever, ever buy something from spam. At best you are supporting a grey market. At worst, buying from spam infects your computer with malware or spyware, turns your PC into a soldier in a zombie computer army, makes your cat lose her hair and gives the spammers more reasons to keep spreading their annoying and badly spelled spiels. Do Not Respond to Spam. Ever.

Phishing - this is an attempt by a scammer to get you to click a link in an email and go to a site that looks like your bank or Ebay or whatever the flavor of the day is, enter your personal information or update it and then they own you. There are several easy things to do to prevent this from happening.

Here are some things you can do to better protect yourself:
- Don't click links in email. Period.
- Type the url of the site in question in the address bar and go there under your own direction.
- Remember that banks and Ebay and other sites will never, ever, ever require you to submit information based on an email.
- Put your cursor over the link but don't click it. See where it is about to direct you in the status bar at the bottom of your browser window (note, you may need to turn this on under the View menu).
- Use FireFox.
- One thing that phishers do regularly is forget to spell check their spam. Banks and other reputable companies do not email badly spelled missives. Misspelled words are a pretty clear indication that its a phishing attempt.
- When in doubt, call the "sending" company and ask them if they sent it (of course, don't use any contact info contact in the email for this).
- Check which email address the email is sent to. I use specific email accounts for specific uses, if I get a bank email to my intellectualpoison.com account, I know its fake.
- Similarly, check who sent it. If the name attached to the email bears no resemblance to sender then its a good bet that its a scam/phishing attempt. Honest people do not feel the need to hide their identities.
- Use Gmail. Google puts alot of effort into identifying scams and letting users know about them. They can help head off most attempts for you. Yahoo Mail, by contrast, appears to have no filter whatsoever and delivers nearly every piece of crap to my in-box.
- If the offer is too good to be true then it probably is.

If you take most of this advice to heart then you are unlikely to fall prey to a phishing attempt and/or spam marketing. If there is no market, i.e. nobody falls for it, then spam will die off. The only reason there is spam is because people keep falling for it.
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