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The Internet gives you easy access to information, entertainment, financial offers and countless other services. The flip-side, however, is that it can leave you vulnerable to online scammers, identity thieves, and criminals. To guard against Internet fraud, follow the tips below:

Know your seller. If you don't, do some research.

  • Company websites often provide information in a section called "About Us". Some online sellers participate in programs, such as BBBOnLine, that help resolve problems. Look for a logo or endorsement seal on the company website. This is an indication, but not a guarantee, of the seller's reliability.
  • Check with state and/or local consumer offices.
  • Another way to check online sellers is to look for other consumers' comments. Visit Bizrate, where consumers rate online stores. Some Internet auction sites post ratings of sellers based on comments by buyers. This information may give you some idea of how you'll be treated, but beware of too many glowing stories that might have ben placed by sellers themselves.

Protect your personal information. Don't provide it in response to an e-mail, a pop-up, or a website you've linked to from an e-mail or web page.

  • Take your time and resist any urge to "act now" to keep your account open or take advantage of a special offer.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall, and update them all regularly. Make sure your operating system and web browser are set up properly and update them regularly as well.
  • Protect your passwords. Don't share your passwords with anyone. Memorize them.
  • Back up important files. Copy them onto another computer or a removable hard drive such as a flash memory stick. When you spill coffee on your laptop or if your computer stops working, you'll be glad you did.

Learn who to contact if something goes wrong online. Report suspected fraud to your bank, credit card company or relevant authority.

The FTC provides tips to help secure your computer, guard against Internet fraud, and protect your personal information. Visit OnGuardOnline for more information. To keep up to date with the latest computer threats, signup for alerts from the Department of Homeland Security.

Social Networking Privacy

Social networking sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, craigslist, and others continue to gain popularity. These sites make it easy to re-connect, stay in touch, and even do business. But recent reports involving privacy concerns and crimes should make you more careful about the information they share. Some tips to consider to protect your privacy and safety include:

  • Make your contact information private.
  • Limit who can search for your profile on Internet search engines.
  • Manage who can view your images; untag photos if necessary.
  • Create seperate lists to manage who can see information you've posted.
  • Be careful about who can see your status updates.
  • Refrain from telling people where you are at any specific time.
  • Be cautious about arranging meetings in person with online acquaintances.

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Beware: Scareware

If you’ve ever received a “security alert” stating that malicious software was found on your computer it may have been scareware. These messages will persuade you that your computer is infected with a virus that you can only eliminate by purchasing and installing specific software. Don’t follow that advice; shut down your browser without clicking in the message. If you believe that your computer is infected, you should run a scan using a known anti-virus software. For more information about scareware and protecting your computer, visit Onguard Online.