There are folks out there who use their powers for evil, not good. Let's not give them the opportunity to sneak into our lives and wreak havoc. Submitted for your reading pleasure are some of my tips to protect yourself and your identity.
When I was a wee lass, my Grandpa George would take me to the pond on a warm Saturday afternoon and we'd fish for hours. Unfortunately, this type of Phishing has nothing to do with warm fuzzy memories of my Grandfather.
Phishing (sounds just like fishing) usually arrives in your inbox in the form of a spoofed e-mail message. It sure looks legit, huh? Well, it's not. Phishers blast e-mail messages in the hopes you'll take the bait and click the links, which will redirect you to a fake website. What do they want? Your account numbers, PIN numbers, SSNs -- anything they can use to gain entry to bank and brokerage accounts and other financial information.
Remember, your brokerage, bank, credit union and credit card provider will never ask for this information via e-mail. They will never ask you to login to your account to confirm information.
If you feel you've been phished, do not access the links included in the e-mail. Also, report the phishing to your ISP and the Anti-Phishing Working Group (http://www.antiphishing.org/).
The Paper Trail ? Snatch that Receipt
I bet you're the type to leave the receipt at the gas pump and at the ATM when you make that late night deposit. Smack on the hand and shame on you ? stop doing that! Take ALL receipts when you make a purchase or a deposit, when you return items, etc. When you go to the clothing store, take the receipt out of the bag and place it in your wallet.
Save all receipts until you receive your end-of-month statements (see Two Dollars below). Also, don't throw away your receipts; see my notes on shredding.
It's ? Like ? Magic!
Pet Peeve: Folks who use cheesy passwords to protect their online accounts ? you folks make me crazy! I recently hired a client and I'm managing several e-mail accounts for him. Guess what password he used for ALL of them? You guessed it: magic. I immediately changed the passwords on all of the accounts and then we had a chat.
You should never use a word you can find in a dictionary as your password. You should never use your birthday, the names of your wife or children or dog as passwords. Use a combination of letters and numbers and where possible, add special characters such as a bang (!) to your password. Also, change your passwords frequently, such as once a quarter or every six months.
What's the "s" for, Anyway?
Ever notice certain website changes when you're making online purchases? There's an "s" which appears after HTTP, for starters. This let's you know you're on a secure server. Also, check the status bar on the window you're using to make the purchase. You should see a yellow padlock -- mouse over the lock and you'll see the encryption level for the site.
If you don't see both of these items, do not make the purchase right now and notify the vendor. Go back and make the purchase at a later time.
I Didn't Charge Two Dollars
Every month, without fail, I want to you check your statements from your credit union, bank, brokerage, credit card companies -- any institution from which you receive a paper statement or an online statement. If the bad guys have access to your account information, they may try and slip in a small charge before coming with the big guns. Take a look at each and every line item and verify you've made the purchase. If something is amiss, call that institution immediately.
The Joy of Shredding
I have a special "shred" basket near my desk and shred all of the basket's contents at the end of the work day. My personal receipts, which I no longer need and have reconciled against my online statements, get shredded. All working documents I've printed or proofed, especially for my attorney clients, are blitzed at the end of day, as well. Anything which may personally identify me or my clients gets the treatment.
You have no logical excuse for not owning a shredder. Price? Not an issue, as shredders are incredibly affordable. You don't have a car to get to the office supply store? If you're reading this article that means you've got internet access. Start a new browser window NOW and access your favorite online office supply vendor. You'll have your new shredder in a matter of days and you too can become a Shredder Queen (or King).
We live in a different world from just a generation ago. Be smart, be aware and remember that if something seems too good to be true, it is.
Lori Davis is Director of the Future at Davis Virtual Assistants, a New York-based VA firm. DavisVA offers a wide variety of administrative, creative and technical services to small business owners and entrepreneurs. To learn more about Lori and DavisVA, please visit http://www.davisva.com and http://loridavis.typepad.com/davisva/. You may contact Lori at 917.319.8224 and via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.