Money Mondays: 7 Online Habits that Make You a Target for Thieves

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This post is by Bernie Carr,

People take a lot of precautions to avoid becoming a victim of crime in their daily life.  They may have alarm systems, cameras in their front and back doors, motion activated lights, take self-defense, classes, carry weapons etc.   But they may be neglecting to protect themselves from the fastest growing crime: cyber theft.

Certain habits make you more vulnerable to identity theft.  Unfortunately, they are very easy to take for granted until it is too late.

Here are 7 online habits that make you a target for thieves

Easy Passwords

Let’s face it.  Coming up with passwords for every single site that requires one is a pain in the rear.   It is very tempting to take a shortcut and use the same password for all your accounts.  Or you might think about using a derivative of the same password so it is easy to remember.  However, though it might be convenient, this is a habit that puts you at risk.  I’ve had my bank and credit cards shut down due to my password being stolen.  It is a worse ordeal than just coming up with a safe password, to begin with.

Using unsecured Wifi

Free wifi is often offered by restaurants, airports and other public places as a convenience for their customers.  I have used it myself on occasion.  However, using a free unsecured wifi also exposes you to a lot of risks.   Hackers scan unsecured wifi and try to find any security flaws.  Once they find one, they are able to intercept personal data:  contact information, credit card numbers, passwords and bank accounts.

I know a lot of friends keep banking information on their phones so they can easily access their accounts.   Avoid using public wifi for any of the following:

  • Do not check into your personal bank or credit card accounts.
  • Do not shop online, as this involves giving out credit card info.
  • Do not log into any sites requiring a password, such as your email or even social media accounts.

Posting your current activity on social media

I’ve always warned readers to quit posting their current whereabouts on social media.  People I know post the restaurant they are dining at, the movies they are watching and the time they are out.  This not only exposes you to cybercrime but to burglary as well.  If thieves know you are not home, then they have the perfect opportunity to rob you.

Another common habit I see online is posting photos that inadvertently reveal personal information about themselves or their children.  They may post a celebratory pic about paying off the final balance on a credit card with a photo of the statement.  The statement shows their account number and the bank’s name.  That is a dead giveaway of personal information and the thief did not even have to make an effort to find out.

Taking online quizzes

Taking quizzes is fun, but do know that many of these sites are created to get personal information from the user?  Many of these are on Facebook  or accessible by logging in with your Facebook account.  They may appear innocent at first.  But they ask seemingly unrelated information from the quiz taker such as first pet, birth month, birthplace, etc.  Before you know it, the site administrators have a lot of your answers to security questions often asked insecure sites.

Before participating in online quizzes, think about who is giving out the online quiz, and how much information are you really giving out.

Clicking on email links (even from people you know)

People email links to their contact all the time, and some may be legitimate.  But many emails links are also malware infested.  Over the years I have received emails from people I have not had contact with in years.  This is a sign that their email has been hacked and is sending fake emails to their contact list.  I’ve received them from my sister-in-law, former colleagues, and parents of former classmates of my kids.  When I call them to find out if they sent me an email, they are mystified and don’t even know they got hacked.

Some emails are disguised to appear exactly like your bank, but if you mouse over the email’s sender, a strange or thinly disguised name will pop up.  Make it a habit to mouse over the email sender’s name but do not click on any links contained in the email.  If you want to reach your account holder, open a new browser and log in using a separate screen or tab.

Forgetting to update your malware or anti-virus programs

This is something I used to be guilty of.  I’d have a malware or anti-virus program and forget to run it on a regular basis or forget to update it.  Keep your anti-virus programs up to date.

Also, keep the apps on your smartphone updated.  You may be missing an important security patch.

Getting freebies in exchange for information

I see a lot of companies offering freebies on your birthday or on certain days of the year.  All it takes is to download an app or sign up on a website.  But if you think about it, what are they getting in exchange?   For a free donut (as an example) which is worth under $1, the site requires your name, email address and date of birth.  Or, if you download an app, it wants permissions to your contact list, photos, and call information.   As a frugal person, I was tempted at first.  But when I thought about all the information the companies are asking for in exchange for the one freebie, I stopped myself.  Is your data worth that $3 burger or $1 ice cream?

Final thoughts

Consider your information an important commodity.  Protecting your personal data take vigilance.  Online criminals are always looking for the next victim – don’t make yourself an easy target.  Be honest with yourself – what bad habits do you need to address?  Start protecting yourself now.

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