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Cyber-Santas: Be Cyber-Secure

Friday, December 05, 2014 | 06:32am

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Free shipping, daily deals, gift-wrapping, even gift recommendations are filling consumers’ email accounts along with online ads tailored to your web searches as Tennesseans shop for the holidays.

“The bad guys only have to be right once, but we have to be right all the time when it comes to making sure our connection is secure,” Tennessee Chief Information Officer Mark Bengel said. “This is especially true during the holiday shopping season, when many people like to shop online.”

Bengel oversees the Office for Information Resources (OIR), which provides direction, planning, resources, execution and coordination in managing the state’s information systems needs.  This includes the job of making sure state systems are secure.

“Unfortunately, with the convenience and lure of online deals, consumers can also be exposed to online scams, tricks and the possibility of data theft,” OIR Security Chief Sese Bennett said. “There’s no need to abandon online shopping, but we need to be aware of steps that will help protect consumers from cyber-grinches.”

Bennett offers several tips for consumers:

  • Use secure passwords for all online accounts – including email. It's one of the simplest and most important steps to take in securing your devices, computers and accounts. Best practice: use pass phrases instead of hard-to-remember complex passwords, such as song lyrics, bible verses, favorite quotes or scientific facts. Pass phrases when combined with upper case letters and unique characters or numbers are much more difficult to compromise and provide better protection of your data.
  • Do not use public computers or public wireless web access for your online shopping. Public computers may contain malicious software that steals your credit card information when you place your order.
  • Pay by credit card, not debit card. Debit cards do not have the same consumer protections as credit cards.
  • Do not respond to pop-ups. When a window pops up promising you cash or gift cards for answering a question or taking a survey, close it.
  • Do not click on links or open attachments in emails from financial institutions or vendors. Be cautious about all emails you receive even those from legitimate organizations, including your favorite retailers. The emails could be spoofed and contain malware. Instead, contact the source directly.

Bennett cautions that scammers also target senior citizens, who are using the web for email, shopping and banking in greater numbers every year.   “Banks, financial institutions and even retailers will not typically provide a special link in an email, but will ask the consumer to log in to their web page,” Bennett said.  “If you have someone in your family or community new to internet shopping, make sure they know how to avoid scammers year-round, especially around the holidays.”

Information on many current scams can be found on the website of the Internet Crime Complaint Center:  http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspxs.

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