The Internet is a lot of things. It is a great communication tool to stay in touch with friends, family, and colleagues; it is a powerful research tool, and a source of news and entertainment; it is a barrage of advertisements, and sometimes dangerous scams. Here are some tips to help you use the Internet safely.
E-mail scams are common, especially “phishing.” Phishing e-mails attempt to trick you into giving out personal information, such as passwords or credit card numbers. Some of these e-mails are obviously fraudulent, rife with misspellings and grammatical errors, and some will be trapped in your spam filter*, but others are nearly perfect facsimiles of legitimate e-mails from your bank or other online services you use.
*Remember to check your spam folder occasionally; every now and then a legitimate e-mail will get trapped there.
What makes an e-mail suspicious? The Goodwill Community Fund’s Internet Safety Tutorial identifies some red flags to look out for – go take a look and come on back when you’re ready.
Interesting, huh? Spammers and scammers are pretty good at making their e-mails look just like e-mails from a bank or company. If you’re suspicious, be cautious:
- Don’t click on a link in the e-mail; type it into your browser instead.
- Contact the company directly if it’s one you have an account with; if it’s not a company you have an account with, it’s probably not legit.
- Never give out your password, credit card number, or other sensitive information in an e-mail.
- Don’t open attachments if you don’t know the sender. Learn more about attachments from GCF’s Internet Safety Tutorial.
OnGuard.gov has more information about phishing. They emphasize, “Legitimate businesses don’t ask you to send sensitive information through insecure channels….Legitimate companies don’t ask for this information via email or text….Email is not a secure method of transmitting personal information.”
No matter how urgent the message appears, don’t click on links, reply, or call a phone number in an e-mail. Instead, contact the company directly through their website or their main phone line. (Official contact numbers for your bank or credit card company can be found on the back of your credit or debit card.)
The FBI maintains a page on common fraud schemes and how to avoid them. Types of fraud include identity theft, “advance fee” schemes (the sender promises goods or services in exchange for a fee in advance), credit card fraud, and “Nigerian letter” fraud.
A lot of these e-mail tips apply to social media and the wider web as well. Use common sense: keep personal information private, use a different password for each account, don’t open links or messages from people you don’t know. Another thing to look for is the “s” at the beginning of a URL (https://www….). The “s” stands for secure, which means the page you’re on is encrypted. Learn more about public vs. private wifi networks from OnGuardOnline.gov.
A final tip is to “friend” or “follow” the local police department on social media, or sign up for text or e-mail alerts. Arlington residents can register to receive text, phone call, or e-mail “Arlington alerts” from the Arlington police. These may relate more to physical security (or parking bans due to snow emergencies…) but it’s good to stay up to date online and IRL (in real life). Just ask Officer Buckle and Gloria!