Special Holiday Safety Issue

Holiday shopping projections are in, and one thing seems clear — the Internet is playing a larger role than ever before. Cyber thieves are fully aware of this trend, which means they ramp up their efforts this time of year.  With so many of us turning to the Web for shopping and financial activities, it’s wise to take a look at some ways to protect ourselves.

Beware of Public Wi-Fi
We’ve all been there — staggering through the mall with a mountain of gifts, struggling with coats and gift lists, tired to the bone. You stop at the coffee shop for a break and think, “I’ll buy the rest of my gifts online.” Out comes your smartphone. 

The problem is that cyber thieves can easily intercept personal information from unsuspecting customers who shop or transfer money using public Wi-Fi hot spots. 

When conducting online business that requires an account number, personal information, or passwords, it should be done on a secure connection.

Watch Out for Email Scams
This is the perfect time of year for crooks to scam via email. They promise cash rewards or unexpected tax refunds. Some claim to be the bank, contacting you about a purchase.  Phony emails can look incredibly realistic, complete with logos from the bank or the IRS. Thieves use official-sounding language to solicit personal information so they can “take care of this urgent matter in the most timely manner possible” or “deposit winnings directly into your account.”

Following are some telltale signs that help identify email scams.

The email asks for personal or financial information
Your bank will never ask for a Social Security number, credit card number, account number, date of birth, phone number, mother’s maiden name, etc. This is information your bank already has and we will never ask for it in an e-mail.  Never answer an email like this — delete it immediately. 

The email includes a request to click a link
Banks don’t block accounts or funds just because a customer refuses to click on a link. Such links usually result in malware being downloaded to the computer, which is used to steal personal information. Never click these links. 

The email promises exclusive rewards with little or no effort
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Never respond to any sweepstakes or special offer that asks for personal or account information, even when they are told the information is needed to “deposit winnings into your account.” The email should be deleted. 

The email is threatening
Banks and government offices don’t send emails that pressure you to respond with personal information. An email that does this is likely a phony. If in doubt, call the bank or the government agency to confirm it's valid.

Create Strong Passwords
Effective passwords use a combination of upper and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters. Do not use the same password at multiple sites. Be careful at work. You might be amazed at how often passwords are stolen by co-workers. Passwords should never be written down, they should be memorized.