As we continue to endure one of the most testing periods that many of us have ever experienced in our lives, it's important to be aware of some of the online traps that are out there and seeking to take advantage of individuals in a time of uncertainty and nation-wide panic. We should all be doing everything we can to stay healthy and safe during this time, and that should also be applied to your online presence. Use the advice below when browsing the web to significantly reduce your risk of being a victim to cyber crime:
1. Use strong, unique passwords online
2. Only download files and applications from websites that you trust (i.e. official app stores or legitimate organisations such as your bank)
3. Pause and think carefully before clicking on links in email, messages or on social networking sites. Don’t click on links in messages if you don’t know the sender or if the message is unexpected.
4. If you think a link looks suspicious or you can’t tell where it leads to, before you click hover over the link to see the actual web address it will take you to (usually shown at the bottom of the browser window). If you do not recognize or trust the address, try searching for relevant key terms in a web browser. This way you can find the article, video, or web page without directly clicking on the suspicious link.
5. Expand shortened URLS to check if they are safe. Short URLs are often used in social media. There are a number of services that create short links - such as goo.gl, bit.ly, tinyurl.com, ow.ly and youtu.be. To check if these links are safe, you can use an ‘expand link’ facility to get the original URL from a shortened link without having to click through to the destination. Look for a short URL expander that is recommended by your anti-virus software or a reputable software company.
6. Be wary of offers that seem too good to be true. Leave websites that ask for your personal or banking details in return for money – these are scams. Remember, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
7. Don’t agree to friend requests from people you don’t know on social media networks - people are not always who they say they are.
When making purchases online:
• Check if the site is reputable and has a refund policy
• When making payments, check that you are using a secure connection. The URL of the payment page will use ‘https’ instead of ‘http’, and a padlock icon will be displayed by your browser.
• If the website looks suspicious or you have doubts – do not proceed. Learn more about making purchases online safely.
• Know that threats such as malware, phishing, identity theft and other types of fraud and scams are a risk online. Learn more about these threats and sign up for regular alerts from Stay Smart Online.
• Malware can be delivered through malicious advertising (known as malvertising). Using an adblocker can stop malware from being delivered through your browser. Some browsers include an AdBlock feature in their Settings under ‘Extensions’. For further help, search for adblocker in the online help or support center for your web browser.
• Avoid using public computers or Wi-Fi hotspots to access or provide personal information. Don’t use online banking or make payments with credit cards using public computers or Wi-Fi. Learn how to use public Wi-Fi and online banking safely.
Here is one of many possible scenarios highlighting the danger of not being careful:
• You open your web browser and start browsing
• You visit a site and unknowingly fall into a spyware trap, such as:
o A pop-up you click on, even to close it
o A deceptive link that you follow
o A clickable graphic that leads down a dangerous path
• Sometimes simply opening a web page or an HTML email starts the installation
• Spyware loads onto your PC without your knowledge
• Your computer is infected and your personal information is at risk or worse you data is now encrypted and no longer accessible.
As unfortunate as it is, online scammers often look to take advantage of unsuspecting people in times of panic and doubt. Don't fall victim, follow the steps above to ensure that you are always maintaining a safe online presence.