As more and more people turn to the web to get the most out of their money – for transactions from shopping to banking – there has been a corresponding rise in online fraud and identity theft.
A report from the US Federal Trade Commission suggested that consumers lost around $1.2bn in 2007, with identity theft making up 32 per cent of complaints.
Meanwhile, the explosion in social networking sites which list all kinds of personal information freely online – including many of the answers to questions commonly asked in security checks – has contributed to the growth of the problem.
Criminals can piece together personal information found on a number of sites and access it through aggregating sites such as spock.
Information posted online is essentially there forever. It can be tricky to remove any personal details posted, especially if it is replicated on other sites, so it is important not to post anything online that you would not tell a stranger in the street.
When transacting online, a lot can be done to secure information and money. It is important to ensure web sites are legitimate: this can be quite a challenge as bogus sites can look as good as real ones. If you are in any doubt, it is always a good idea to call the company to check a site's authenticity before entering credit card details.
Computers also need the right security tools to maintain the confidentiality of information entered or transferred so extra care is needed when using public computers or connections. Keystroke loggers uploaded at internet cafes can steal all sorts of information.
Equally, beware of wireless connections, which may be easily logged into remotely if not properly secured.
Laptops also need up-to-date security and Wi-Fi capabilities should be turned off when not in use. Computers should be set so that the network connection needs to be manually selected.
It may also be wise not to use email or Instant Messenger to communicate sensitive information.
Another option is to encrypt important data, so if the worst happens, personal or sensitive information cannot be read.
Greg Day is security analyst at McAfee International
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