As we enter the holiday season, if you order online, fraudsters will be targeting you. Many people will be easy marks, where their computers will become infected with viruses, and they will be victims of identity theft. Big online vendors such as eBay and Amazon represent big targets, but others will be targets as well. Phishers will be sending out loads of poisonous messages, just hoping that a few people will mistakenly click on links to malware-laden web sites. While big mail providers like Google and Yahoo! work hard to filter out such garbage, it’s unavoidable that some of dangerous emails will get through. Preventing such thefts while shopping online can be tricky because fraudulent and legitimate messages look nearly identical. Fraudsters may know something about you, such as your name, your mother tongue, the region in which you live, and the names of some of your friends. A competent fraudster will use the logos and have the same look and feel of a legitimate online vendor.
Some of my techie friends are probably snickering, saying “That couldn’t happen to me.” It probably already has.
Here are a few common sense suggestions to keep you from becoming a victim:
- Here’s the obvious one: if you didn’t order something from a vendor, be highly suspicious of the email, especially with messages that claim to have order information or coupon offers.
- If you have ordered something, beware any message with a subject that is vague, such as “your order”. A legitimate online vendor will somehow identify the order, either with an order number or with the name of the product you have ordered. This may appear in the subject line or in the body of the message.
- No legitimate online vendor sends zip files in email. Don’t open them. The same largely holds for most other attachments. If they can’t provide you necessary information in the body of the message, it’s probably not legitimate.
- Most online vendors provide you a means to log into their service to track orders. If you are at all in doubt about whether a message is legitimate, without clicking on a link in the message, visit their web site, and log in to track the order. If you need help, contact the vendor’s customer service.
- While banks may email you alerts of some form, it is still always better to go to their web sites without clicking on links in the messages.
- Unless you gave it to them directly shippers such as Federal Express do not have your email address. No decent online vendor will share your email address with a shipper.
What happens if you do click on something you shouldn’t have? There is no easy answer. Unless you are using antivirus, you have to assume the worst. This means that it’s important to maintain good backups. That way you can reinstall from scratch. Sounds painful? Then don’t carelessly click on email links.
Want some more advice on staying safe? Check out StaySafeOnline.org.