Protect Your Online Identity

Email Offers and Online Shopping

Many email offers are scams to lure online users into disclosing personal information.

Enjoy safe online shopping and avoid email scams with these tips:

  • Protect personal information. Only give personal or credit information to companies you know and trust. Call their customer service prior to purchasing to check customer responsiveness. Also read their privacy policy to ensure your information will not be sold.
  • Resist immediate action. Scams usually include a limited-time offer designed to elicit a fast response. Take time to check credentials and read consumer reviews and complaints.
  • Know what it will cost. Know the exact price, including shipping and handling. Make sure the company doesn't make automatic substitutions. Ask for an exact delivery date. Use a credit card to purchase as it offers consumer protection.
  • Get it in writing. Get a printed guarantee and receipt. Read the fine print about prices and returns.
  • Don't email financial information. Never email personal information like credit card or Social Security numbers or passwords. Pay through a secure website by confirming a lock icon on the browser's status bar or that the URL begins with "https."

Spam, Botnets and Hackers

Spam can also contain attachments, links, or images that can turn your computer into a “bot.” Botnets are hacked computers unknowingly sending spam to other computers. Once hackers reside on your computer, they can spy on your Internet surfing and your information.

You can limit access to your computer by:

  • Using anti-virus and anti-spyware software. Available online, in stores, and from many Internet Service Providers (ISP), look for brands that offer automatic daily updates and remove or quarantine viruses and worms.
  • Keeping your operating system up-to-date and enable firewalls. Set preferences to automatically install security patches and updates. A properly configured firewall blocks incoming communications from unauthorized sources.
  • Avoiding opening email attachments. Delete emails with attachments unless you know what it contains and who sent it.
  • Exercising downloading discipline. Use caution when downloading free software, toolbars, and games. They may contain malicious software known as malware that can track your surfing and gather information. If your computer has slowed down, has problems starting or shutting down or gets a lot of pop-up ads it may be infected. Run an up-to-date anti-virus, anti-spyware program and report any malware incidents to your ISP.
  • Protecting Passwords. Choose random passwords that contain both letters and numbers. Don't use the same password for every account.
  • Take immediate action if you think your computer has been compromised. Disconnect from the Internet and scan all your drives with a current anti-virus and anti-spyware program. Change passwords immediately and report unauthorized accesses to your ISP and the FBI at www.ic3.gov External.

Minimize Identity Theft Damage

Quick action can lessen the damage of a stolen identity or compromised personal information.

  • Place a Fraud Alert on your credit reports. Call any of the consumer reporting companies below to place an initial 90-day fraud alert:
    • Equifax: equifax.com 1-877-726-7311
    • Experian: experian.com 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
    • TransUnion: transunion.com 1-800-888-4213
  • Immediately close any compromised accounts. Alert the security department at each company (follow up with a written request) and ask for written verification that the accounts have been closed. Keep all documents and a contact log of each communication.
  • File a police report and contact the Federal Trade Commission. Creditors may want a police report to help you claim your rights as a victim of identity theft. The FTC tracks online identity theft nationwide, reach them at ftc.gov/idtheft External or 877-438-4338.

*May 17, 2009, The New York Times, "Spam Back to 94% of All E-Mail."