Beware of on­line fraud dur­ing hol­i­day sea­son

Open Wi-Fi is prob­a­bly the least se­cure place

Kuwait Times - - TECHNOLOGY -

NEW YORK: On­line fraud spikes dur­ing the hol­i­day shop­ping sea­son, as peo­ple search­ing for the per­fect gifts take to cy­berspace and head to tra­di­tional stores armed with their smart­phones.

“The Pan­dora’s box of cy­ber­at­tacks is about to open,” says Pete Tyrrell, chief op­er­at­ing of­fi­cer for Dig­i­tal Guardian, a Waltham, Mas­sachusetts­based data pro­tec­tion firm. “The cy­ber­crim­i­nals are get­ting more and more cre­ative - and at the end of the day, it’s your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion at risk.” Here are some tips for pro­tect­ing your­self and your in­for­ma­tion from on­line Grinches.

BEWARE OF GIFTS OF FREE WI-FI

It’s aw­ful tempt­ing to sign on to a store’s free Wi-Fi while you’re out shop­ping, es­pe­cially since store walls are no­to­ri­ous for block­ing or weak­en­ing smart­phone data con­nec­tions. But fraud­sters also may be lurk­ing on the net­works, ready to use that con­nec­tion to steal credit card or other per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

“Peo­ple may want to log on to their Best Buy or Ama­zon ac­counts to check prices, but open Wi-Fi is prob­a­bly the least se­cure place to do that,” says Michael Kaiser, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Na­tional Cy­ber Se­cu­rity Al­liance.

And never use open Wi-Fi con­nec­tions to check bank ac­count in­for­ma­tion. The last thing you want a hacker to have is a direct con­nec­tion to your bank ac­count.

If you’re tech-savvy enough to use VPN soft­ware - short for “vir­tual pri­vate net­work,” a tech­nique for shut­ting would-be eaves­drop­pers out of your con­nec­tion - on your phone, then free Wi-Fi is safe so long as you have the VPN on. For most peo­ple, though, it’s sim­ply best to stick to your cel­lu­lar con­nec­tion.

Shop­pers also need to be on the look­out for less high-tech thieves when shop­ping on­line in crowded pub­lic places like cof­fee shops, says Nitin Bhan­dari, se­nior vice pres­i­dent for prod­ucts at Opera Soft­ware So­lu­tions. That means keep­ings your screens out of the views of oth­ers - even smart­phones, which are big­ger and eas­ier to read from a dis­tance than they used to be.

SWIM AWAY FROM PO­TEN­TIAL PHISH

Phish­ing spikes dur­ing the hol­i­day sea­son. Emails that of­fer great deals on hol­i­day gifts or do­na­tion pitches from char­i­ties could ac­tu­ally be at­tempts to steal your credit card or lo­gin in­for­ma­tion. An­other pop­u­lar trick: fake emails sup­pos­edly sent by on­line re­tail­ers or ship­pers such as FedEx or UPS, say­ing that a pay­ment for an or­der didn’t go through, or that an or­der didn’t ship. Don’t click on links in th­ese emails. It could con­tain mal­ware or take you to a fake web­site that looks very much like that of a le­git­i­mate com­pany. In­stead of get­ting help, you’ll most likely have your per­sonal in­for­ma­tion stolen. Panic over the pos­si­bil­ity of not get­ting a gift in time can make peo­ple click be­fore they think, Kaiser says. So, it’s best to slow down. If you think an email is gen­uine, just go di­rectly to the com­pany in ques­tion’s main web­site.

CHECK YOUR AC­COUNTS FOR

‘NAUGHTY’ AC­TIV­ITY

Both dur­ing and af­ter the hol­i­days, shop­pers need to keep a close eye on their ac­counts. The eas­i­est way to do this is to use the same credit card for all of your hol­i­day shop­ping. Never use your debit card; if hack­ers get ahold of your num­ber, they could clean out your bank ac­count.

A ded­i­cated email ac­count can also help keep things or­ga­nized.

It’s also a good idea to use dif­fer­ent user names and dif­fer­ent pass­words for your var­i­ous shop­ping ac­counts. That way if one is com­pro­mised, it’s less likely that the oth­ers will fall to hack­ers as well, says Tim Fran­cis, the head of “cy­ber in­sur­ance” poli­cies at Trav­el­ers.

IF IT LOOKS TOO GOOD TO BE TRUE ...

Web­sites and emails that ad­ver­tise hot deals on pop­u­lar or hard-to-find gifts, along with free or deeply dis­counted gift cards, are prob­a­bly scams. “I still haven’t been able to buy an iPad for $7,”Tyrrell joked.

It’s best to stick with e-commerce sites you know are real and go di­rectly to those web­sites. Don’t click on Web ads.

Shop­ping on the web­sites of com­pa­nies you’ve pre­vi­ously done busi­ness with can also save you time and has­sle, says Steve Platt, a vice pres­i­dent at credit mon­i­tor­ing com­pany Ex­pe­rian.

On­line re­tail­ers will be on the look­out for fraud­sters too. That means they might be more likely to flag a trans­ac­tion - and slow down your shop­ping - if they haven’t dealt with you be­fore.

“The more in­for­ma­tion they know about you and your pur­chases, the more likely you’ll have a seam­less ex­pe­ri­ence,” Platt says. — AP

WAYNE: Bree Stop­per, mid­dle, talks on the phone af­ter fin­ish­ing work at a cloth­ing store in the Wil­low­brook Mall, Fri­day. —APP

NAN­TERRE: In this Jan 19, 2015 photo, a French po­lice of­fi­cer works at the head­quar­ters of the Pharos re­port­ing plat­form against cy­ber crim­i­nal­ity out­side Paris. — AP

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