7 Tips on How to Use PCs to Protect Yourself Against Scammers

Turning PCs into anti-scam allies, both online and offline: Internet Scambusters #365

With the right approach and access to the right information, our PCs can play an important role in protecting us against scams.

Using the best Internet security software and knowing the safe sites to visit creates a safety net that stops the scammers in their tracks. And the information you glean online can also be used out in the real world.

We have 7 tips that show you how to make the most of your PC’s power to protect.

Time to get going…

7 Tips on How to Use PCs to Protect Yourself Against Scammers

So often we think and read about our PCs being a big source of scams. And it’s true — without the proper safeguards and up-to-date information, they can be a route to all sorts of online crime.

But it’s also true that your PC can be a powerful ally in the battle against crooks, protecting you against both online and offline scams, as well as helping you take swift corrective action if you do get snared.

In this issue we explain how you can make the most of your PC’s potential to keep you safely out of the grips of scammers.

Using the Internet and PC tools to Protect You

The Internet is teeming with sites that claim to help you avoid scams. But you have to be careful because many of those same sites are either out to trick you into thinking you’re already a victim or to charge you for services you don’t need.

But there are 7 failsafe Internet actions and PC tools you should be using to limit the risk of getting scammed. Here they are:

  1. Bookmark and regularly visit the website of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at ftc.gov. This carries not only regular updates on the latest scams and other consumer-related crimes but also has valuable advice on what to do if you discover or suspect you are a scam victim.
  2. Monitor all of your online bank and credit card accounts. Even if you don’t do your finances online, you can still set up Internet access to your accounts so you can see all the latest transactions and quickly spot anything out of the ordinary — instead of waiting for your monthly statement to arrive by snail mail when a lot more damage has been done.
  3. Check your credit rating by collecting your free annual report from each of the credit rating agencies. Beware though that there are all sorts of sites purporting to offer free credit reports but most of them are, one way or another, after your money. For the lowdown on how to do this properly, check out this earlier Scambusters issue on how to actually receive your free credit report: Can You Really Get a Free Credit Report — Without Getting Scammed?The value of checking your credit status is not only in establishing your creditworthiness but also in raising a red flag if you have become a victim of identity theft — because the thief will almost certainly have damaged your good credit standing.
  4. Follow the latest scam news. In addition to checking the FTC website — and of course subscribing to Scambusters, which is a leading free source of information on latest Internet-based and other types of scams — you can even set up a Google news alert service that drops scam stories directly into your email inbox.However, beware, as we warned earlier, that some stories and sites that claim to deal with scams are often disguised attempts to get you to click on malware links or to buy products that don’t really protect you. And many Scambusters subscribers feel this is overkill — they find that subscribing to Scambusters is all they really need.
  5. Install software that genuinely does give you PC protection. These days, all the market-leading Internet security applications go way beyond simple anti-virus protection, by letting you know whether websites you’re visiting are safe or not — for instance, if they’re really phishing sites — as well as warning if any site tries to upload software onto your PC.Another increasingly important PC tool to consider is a password generator. Too many of us use either easy-to-guess or the same passwords for every account. It’s an open invitation to identity theft. See this Scambusters article: Get Tough With Computer Passwords and Secret Questions.Specialist programs not only generate complex passwords, different for each site, but also save them (and save you having to remember them, and remember which site they’re for) in an impenetrable, encrypted file that only you can access.
  6. Checking official records and contact information. All local governments offer useful information online but the extent of these varies from one organization to another. For instance, you might be able to check the ownership history and other information about a piece of real estate you’re thinking of buying or renting, or whether an individual or company is registered or licensed for business services they are offering.At the very least, the Internet is a valuable source of contact information at state, city or county levels and for emergency and utility services — usually much more comprehensive than you would find in the phonebook, and able to point you in the right direction when you suspect a scam.You can also check out our Scam Check Station for more valuable resources.
  7. Keeping your credit card details secret. Yes, that’s right. Although we use credit cards for many online transactions, you don’t need to use your number. There are at least two things you can do:

    – Set up an account with an online payment service. Principally, at the moment, this means PayPal since it’s the most widely accepted online payment service, accepted not only on auction sites but also by more and more general retailers. Unfortunately, people do complain about PayPal’s consumer protection policies, so you do need to be careful. Google also offers a service, Google Checkout, and others are on the way.

    These services link your account with these organizations either to your credit card or to a bank account — and they’re the only people who need to know these details. When you pay by these services, they will either use any balance you have saved with them or draw the money from your accounts, without the vendor ever knowing the details.

    – An alternative, powerful tool that, strangely, has never really caught on with online shoppers, is to get a different, temporary credit card number for every transaction (called “controlled payment numbers” or “virtual account numbers”). Some credit card companies offer this service either via their websites or a small add-on PC tool for your browser that generates a different number each time you buy something online.

    You can find out more about these if you look at #4 about a third of the way down on MasterCard Security Alert. Bank of America also offers these temporary credit card numbers now (they call it ShopSafe). We personally use these special credit card numbers all the time — it’s much safer.

So, there you go. The world of technology, and specifically the Internet, has definitely brought more potential scams into our homes, but, used wisely, PCs can also be a powerful weapon in the battle to beat the crooks.

That’s a wrap for this issue. Wishing you a great week!