And know what you're getting into. There are dishonest people in the bricks and mortar world and on the Internet. But online, you can't judge an operator's trustworthiness with a gut-affirming look in the eye. It's remarkably simple for online scammers to impersonate a legitimate business, so you need to know whom you're dealing with.
If you're shopping online, check out the seller before you buy. A legitimate business or individual seller should give you a physical address and a working telephone number at which they can be contacted in case you have problems.
Phishing — bait or prey?
It might threaten some dire consequence if you don't respond. The message directs you to a website that looks just like a legitimate organization's, but isn't. What is the purpose of the bogus site? To trick you into divulging your personal information so the operators can steal your identity and run up bills or commit crimes in your name.
Don't take the bait: don't open unsolicited or unknown email messages; don't open attachments from people you don't know or don't expect; and never reply to or click on links in email or pop-ups that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies don't ask for this information via email.
If you are directed to a website to update your information, verify that the site is legitimate by calling the company directly, using contact information from your account statements. Or open a new browser window and type the URL into the address field, watching that the actual URL of the site you visit doesn't change and is still the one you intended to visit. Forward spam that is phishing for information to email@example.com and to the company, bank, or organization impersonated in the phishing email. Most organizations have information on their websites about where to report problems.
To ensure you're not being victimized and to detect unauthorized purchases, use the same practices as you do in the offline world. Check your credit card bill at least every month, and consider using services that inform you if someone has requested credit in your name. Click here to learn more tips on phishing and pharming.
Free Software and File-Sharing — worth the hidden costs?
But file-sharing can have a number of risks. If you don't check the proper settings, you could allow access not just to the files you intend to share, but also to other information on your hard drive, like your tax returns, email messages, medical records, photos, or other personal documents.
Therefore, downloading file-sharing software is not advisable and could place your personal information and computer at risk. If you do decide to use file-sharing software, set it up very carefully.
To avoid spyware, resist the urge to install any software unless you know exactly what it is. Your anti-virus software may include anti-spyware capability that you can activate, but if it doesn't, you can install separate anti-spyware software, and then use it regularly to scan for and delete any spyware programs that may sneak onto your computer.
E-mail Attachments and Links — legitimate or virus-laden?