PC Speak: Abney Associates Tech Blog, Online fraud risks: protect yourself

The internet is such a part of everyday life that we don't even think about it any more. It's no more exotic and unexpected than having water coming out of the taps. However, unlike the water coming out of our taps, the internet isn't always pure and clear. And by using it without taking the proper precautions, we could find ourselves becoming the victims of online fraud.

So how can we protect ourselves?

CIFAS, the UK's fraud prevention service, discovered that in the last year, card fraud and identity theft had surged - with over 125,000 separate instances. A significant proportion of these frauds are perpetrated because people don't take sufficient precautions online. So what do you need to be aware of, and how can you protect yourself?

Experian has produced 5 top tips to stay safe online.

Beware of phishing expeditions

These involve emails or phone calls which come out of the blue, and persuade you to part with your credit card details or bank account information. There are a number of common approaches.

One is to pretend to be from your bank or card provider, asking you to log on and verify your identity. If you click on the link they have sent, you'll be sent to a site run by fraudsters, who will collect the information you input and use it to take your money. Others will use a likely-sounding story, such as telling you you have a PPI repayment waiting or a tax rebate.

Experian says that your best approach is to assume that all emails asking for confidential data are scams. If you receive an email you should contact the organisation involved to let them know about the scam - using email or phone details you have elsewhere rather than the link on the email.

Don't be a Twit

Be careful about what you reveal through social media. It can be easy to post photos of valuable possessions, complain about your bank by name, boast about a forthcoming holiday or mention pet names, your mother's maiden name or anything else you may have used as a password. There are plenty of people out there - including your 'friends' or people posing as them - who would use this to access your email, infiltrate online banking, or even burgle your home while you're away.

Be wary of wi-fi

It might be a useful way to buy something on the hoof, or check your bank balance, but there can be nasties hiding in public wi-fi when you're out and about - and your every online move can be watched.

Experian say it's worth being wary, avoid baking online on public wi-fi, and steer clear of any sites that need a password - from banks to social networks.

Check your statements

If a fraudster has taken over your account, or accessed your credit card, your statement is the first place it will show. Experian says that fraudsters are increasingly taking smaller amounts from their victims on a regular basis rather than a one-off hit. If you don't check your statements, it's easy to miss this. One of the best approaches it to go through every single transaction and only tick them off when you're absolutely sure you know what it is.

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