Exercise caution when sharing personal information such as your name, home address, phone number, and email address online. To take advantage of many online services, you will inevitably have to provide personal information in order to handle billing and shipping of purchased goods. Since not divulging any personal information is rarely possible, the following list contains some advice for how to share personal information safely online:
- Keep an eye out for phony email messages. Things that indicate a message may be fraudulent are misspellings, poor grammar, odd phrasings, Web site addresses with strange extensions, Web site addresses that are entirely numbers where there are normally words, and anything else out of the ordinary. Additionally, phishing messages will often tell you that you have to act quickly to keep your account open, update your security, or urge you to provide information immediately or else something bad will happen. Don’t take the bait.
- Don’t respond to email messages that ask for personal information. Legitimate companies will not use email messages to ask for your personal information. When in doubt, contact the company by phone or by typing in the company Web address into your Web browser. Don’t click on the links in these messages as they make take you to a fraudulent, malicious Web sites.
- Steer clear of fraudulent Web sites used to steal personal information. When visiting a Web site, type the address (URL) directly into the Web browser rather than following a link within an email or instant message. Fraudsters often forge these links to make them look convincing. A shopping, banking or any other Web site where sensitive information should have an “S” after the letters “http” (i.e. https://www.yourbank.com not http://www.yourbank.com)/. The “s” stands for secure and should appear when you are in an area requesting you to login or provide other sensitive data. Another sign that you have a secure connection is the small lock icon in the bottom of your web browser (usually the right-hand corner).
- Pay attention to privacy policies on Web sites and in software. It is important to understand how an organization might collect and use your personal information before you share it with them.
- Guard your email address. Spammers and phishers sometimes send millions of messages to email addresses that may or may not exist in hopes of finding a potential victim. Responding to these messages or even downloading images ensures you will be added to their lists for more of the same messages in the future. Also be careful when posting your email address online in newsgroups, blogs or online communities.