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The ability to communicate with our friends and family has expounded exponentially over the past decade.  Texting, Email, Social Media, and Video Conferencing have provided us with multiple ways to connect with others that may be at great distances. Recently, my son had a birthday and learned his great-aunt would not be able to attend his party. He asked if we could FaceTime with her instead, which made them both happy!

Unfortunately, these tools, which provide multiple opportunities to be a blessing, can also be the same tools used by malicious individuals to scam and cause harm to you. For example, what may seem like a fun game to play with your Facebook friends can compromise your online security. I cringe when I see a list of questions answered by my friends with a request to “play along”:

Four places I’ve lived…

Four places I’ve worked…

Four things I love to eat…

Favorite Holiday…

First Car…

Names of children…

Do these questions ring any alarm bells? They should; these are typically the same questions you must answer to provide an additional layer of security for your online accounts. As most of our business is now transacted online, companies have continued to evolve their security protocols. In addition to requiring strong passwords, many sites also require security questions, such as “What was your first job?” or “What was your first car?”. Sadly, in our quest to get to know one another online, we are also publicly sharing the very information used to keep our online accounts safe.

Not only should you be vigilant on Social Media, but you should also be aware that email and texting fraud have evolved, too. Many individuals today know that a Nigerian Prince is not really trying to give you money, but what if you received an email from your close friend who lost her wallet on vacation and needs money sent to her? The email address could be correct, but it is very likely that it has been hacked. Sadly, many never phone their friend to double-check before the funds are sent and lost forever. 

Have you ever received a text with a link to track the package you are scheduled to receive, or perhaps a text alerting you that your online banking account has been locked? As many households shop online, it is easy to click that link without a second thought, but unfortunately, this, too, is often a scam. These links can download malicious software to your phone or, in the case of the locked bank account, allow you to give your username and password to a third party. 

So, what can you do to protect yourself?

  • Be aware of what you are sharing on Social Media and how it could be used against you.
  • Watch for phishing scams. Do not click on any links or download any documents from unfamiliar sources and be extra careful even if it appears to be legitimate.
  • Enable two-factor authentication, if available, for any online accounts. Two-factor authentication is an additional layer of security that will require a passcode to be sent to your email or phone prior to allowing you to log in.
  • Enable your firewall and utilize anti-virus software.
  • During tax season, remember the IRS will never call you with threats requiring you to divulge your personal information.  And, if you receive a phone call from anyone else asking you to provide private information, such as your social security number or banking/credit card information, be aware it could be a scam.  The best course of action is to hang up and call the company directly, asking if any updates need to be made to your information.

Smokey the Bear says that “only you can prevent forest fires,” and YOU are your best defense against online fires, too.  Stay vigilant and maintain your guard to protect your identity and personal information.