STAYING SAFE ONLINE
Earlier this week, I spoke to a local group here in Tellico Village about this same topic, and while gathering my thoughts about what to say, it seemed appropriate to also share them with all of you. Staying safe online is becoming more difficult because the bad actors are devising new ways to skirt the safeguards built into our computing devices. Increasing our personal diligence and being able to recognize a fake email or phone call is our best defense against getting into trouble while online. In 2022, the online fraud industry was over $20 BILLION! And most of this from individuals, just like you and me. Here are some tips to help you stay safe while online.
At the end of the day, staying safe online is all about common sense. I say this because regardless of what you do to preempt bad things from happening, what ultimately gets us in trouble is a bad decision…even if in our heart of hearts…we know it’s a bad decision, we often do it anyway. So, if you take away anything from this newsletter, I hope it’s a little visual sign in your mind’s eye that flashes and says “should I really do this?”. If you’ll ask yourself this a few times before making a questionable online decision, you’ll be fine, because your smarter self won’t let you make that bad decision.
Speaking of bad decisions, the #1 bad decision that gets folks into trouble is allowing someone on the other end of the phone to take control of your computer. Above anything else…do not ever, EVER let anyone take control of your computer unless you know who it is. A friend, a relative, one of us in First Level Support at the computer club – that’s fine. If you use a Mac, then someone from Apple Care (as long as you know you’re actually speaking to an Apple employee), but if you use Windows, understand there is NO ONE at Microsoft who will ever remotely take control of your computer to help you. So, if someone is on that phone and telling you they’re from Microsoft…just hang up!
I know you’re thinking “Hmm…I’d never do that” but we assist several members every month who’ve inadvertently gotten into trouble by letting someone take control of their computer. So don’t say this won’t happen to you…just promise yourself you’ll do everything possible to stay diligent and not make that bad online decision.
The way we get into these situations is invariably by trying to get help. Help with a software app, help with your computer, help with your TV, etc. You bring up Google and start looking for support for something. Out of the search results that populate your screen…I’ll bet over 70% of them are bogus. The first indication they’re bogus is they offer a toll-free number. That’s just not going to happen. The second indication is that someone is actually offering to help you…for free. That’s rare today. Companies go to great lengths to make it nearly impossible to contact them by phone. You have to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff, because when you dial that number for free support, and you hear someone with a strange accent promising to help with your problem…that’s when you need to visualize that mental sign. “Should I really do this?” And the answer is NO!
Here are some other simple pieces of advice regarding online safety.
Keep your internet browser updated.
The latest versions have a lot of built-in protection against fake websites and web-based viruses.
Get a Password Manager.
If you use a Windows PC, I recommend Bitwarden or RoboForm. If you use a Mac, I recommend 1Password or Bitwarden. Create a memorable passphrase to open your password manager. An example of a passphrase is several words separated by special characters, including capital letters and numbers – such as: Sporty-Crown-Tarmac-Imaginary7 (this example passphrase would take approximately 87 years to crack). Whatever you use for your passphrase, it must be memorable to you.
Shred all your sensitive paper documents.
Bad actors can use information on paper statements to steal someone’s identity. Yes, there are lots of people sifting through landfills looking for valuable information.
Learn to spot fake emails and websites.
Criminals use these to con people into giving away passwords and bank details – the technical word is ‘phishing’.
While some of you may like the social aspect of using the Venmo app to transfer money, others may not, and there are downsides to this. To maintain better privacy while using Venmo, Karen Brown sent me the following Venmo tip:
If you’re bothered by the Venmo home screen, which displays not only the transactions you’ve made, but transactions from others in your Contacts app, here are some steps to protect your own privacy while using Venmo.
- Open Venmo and tap the “Me” icon at the bottom right.
- Tap the Settings icon at the top right (the gear-shaped icon).
- Tap “Privacy”.
- Check “Private.” (The other two choices are “Public” and “Friends”.)
- Tap “Past Transactions”.
- Tap “Change All to Private”. Tap the “Back” arrow.
- Tap “Friends List”.
- Tap “Private”. (Again, the other two choices are “Public” and “Friends”.)
- That it…you’re done!
One last reminder to help you stay safe online – whenever your sixth sense presents you with a question mark regarding something you’re about to do online – remember that little sign…”Should I really do this?”
Larry McJunkin, President
Tellico Villager Computer Users Club