With a few simple steps, you can help protect your accounts and personal information from fraud.
Protect Your Personal Information and Accounts
- Passwords – Consider these tips when creating passwords for secure Web sites:
- Create passwords that contain numbers, symbols and special characters. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack.
- Avoid common words because some hackers use programs that try every word in the dictionary.
- Don't use your personal information or login ID as your password.
- Change your passwords regularly and don’t use the same password more than once.
- Don't use the same password for each online account you access.
- Don’t share your password and don’t use the “remember my password” option on any computer that is not used solely by you.
- Phishing – Phishing is when scammers use phony internet pop-ups or e-mails to ask you for sensitive information, such as usernames, passwords, Social Security numbers and credit card information. You can protect yourself from phishing attempts by:
- Never e-mailing or providing personal information in e-mails.
- Never replying to or clicking on links in e-mail or pop-up messages that ask for personal information, even when they appear legitimate.
- Using anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall – some phishing emails contain software that could harm your computer or track your activities on the Internet.
- Not opening attachments or downloading files from e-mail unless you know who sent them and what they are.
- Contacting the company to find out if it sent the suspicious communication – but don't use the contact information or Web site provided in the e-mail or pop-up.
- Secure sites – It's best to only use your personal computer on a secure network to access secure sites that contain personal and financial information. If you do use a public computer, be sure to log out of secure sites completely to prevent someone else from accessing your information.
- Statements and credit reports – Take a look at your account statements each month to make sure there are no unauthorized transactions. It's also a good idea to check your credit report at least once per year to look for inaccuracies or suspicious activity.
Safeguard Your Computer
- Software – You can help protect your computer by installing anti-virus and anti-spyware software and setting up a firewall.
- Anti-virus software works by removing or quarantining suspected viruses. It’s best to choose one that updates regularly so that you don’t have to worry about making sure the software is up-to-date.
- Anti-spyware software works by scanning your computer and removing spyware and blocking spyware from being installed.
- A firewall functions much like a fire door in a building. Firewalls prevent access by unauthorized parties to your computer or network.
- Downloads – Never download or run a program unless you know it came from a trustworthy source. Don't forward unknown programs or files to friends or coworkers.
- Secure sessions – Look for the padlock in the lower-right hand corner of your browser window and the https: in the address bar to make sure a site is secure before making any financial transactions.
- Browsers – Keep your browser up-to-date for the most current security patches. Also, adjust your browser's security settings to block pop-ups, warn you about suspicious sites or software and let you know when you are leaving secure pages.
Reporting Fraud and Identity Theft
If you think that you've been a victim of fraud or identify theft, take action quickly to recoup stolen money and avoid permanent damage to your credit:
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus to freeze your credit report or have a fraud alert placed on your file.
- File a police report, especially if any of your creditors require you to cover for stolen funds.
- Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission.
- Keep a record of all your contacts, conversations and documents.
Several government and nonprofit organizations are dedicated to educating people about protecting themselves online and dealing with identity theft: