E-mail, the Internet, automated teller machines (ATM), computer
banking, long distance carriers, even credit cards make our lives
more efficient. However, as our lives become more integrated with
technology, keeping our private information confidential becomes
more difficult. Electronic transactions can leave you vulnerable
to fraud and other crimes. Following a few simple tips can help
keep your code from being cracked.
A Word On Passwords
Whether you are on the Internet or an online banking program, you
are often required to use a password. The worst passwords to use
are the ones that come to mind first — name, spouse's name, maiden
name, pets, children's name, even street addresses, etc. The best
passwords mix numbers with upper and lowercase letters. A password
that is not found in the dictionary is even better. There are programs
that will try every word in the dictionary in an effort to crack
Don't be a "Joe" — someone who uses
their name as their password.
The weakest link in a security system is the human element. The
fewer people who have access to your codes and passwords the better.
Avoid breaks in your security by
- Changing your password regularly.
- Memorizing your password. If you have several, set up a system
for remembering them. If you do write down the password, keep
it at home or hidden at work. Don't rewrite your password on a
post-it note and stick it on your monitor or hard drive.
- Setting up a special account or setting aside a different computer
at work for temporary help and other unauthorized users.
- If you have the option of letting your computer or a Web site
remember a password for you, don't use it. Anyone who uses your
machine will have automatic access to information that is password
Don't send confidential, financial, or personal
information on your e-mail system.
Shopping In Cyberspace
Ordering merchandise from the Internet is the trend of the future.
You can prevent problems before they occur by
- Doing business with companies you know and trust. If you haven't
heard of the company before, research it or ask for a paper catalog
before you decide to order electronically. Check with your state
consumer protection agency on whether the company is licensed
or registered. Fraudulent companies can appear and disappear very
quickly in cyberspace.
- Understanding the offer. Look carefully at the products or services
the company is offering. Be sure you know what is being sold,
the quality being specified, the total price, the delivery date,
the return and cancellation policy, and all the terms of any guarantee.
- Using a secure browser that will encrypt or scramble purchase
information. If there is no encryption software, consider calling
the company's 800 number, faxing your order, or paying with a
- Never giving a bank account or credit card number or other personal
information to anyone you don't know or haven't checked out. And
don't provide information that isn't necessary to make a purchase.
Even with partial information, con artists can make unauthorized
charges or take money from your account. If you have an even choice
between using your credit card and mailing cash, check, or money
order, use a credit card. You can always dispute fraudulent credit
card charges but you can't get cash back.
Spam — unsolicited e-mail. Report it to your
online or Internet service provider.
Using ATMs, Long Distance Phone Services, and Credit Cards
Protect Your Personal Identification Number (PIN)
- The PIN is one method used by banks and phone companies to protect
your account from unauthorized access. A PIN is a confidential
code issued to the cardholder to permit access to that account.
Your PIN should be memorized, secured and not given to anyone,
not even family members or bank employees. The fewer people who
have access to your PIN, the better.
- Never write your PIN on ATM or long distance calling cards.
Don't write your PIN on a piece of paper and place it in your
wallet. If your wallet and care are lost or stolen, someone will
have everything they need to remove funds from your account, make
unauthorized debit purchases, or run up your long distance phone
Protect Your Privacy and the Privacy of Others
- Be aware of others waiting behind you. Position yourself in
front of the ATM keyboard or phone to prevent anyone from observing
your PIN. Be courteous while waiting at an ATM or pay phone by
keeping a polite distance from the person ahead of you. Allow
the current user to finish before approaching the machine or phone.
Protect Your ATM Cards
- An ATM card should be treated as thought it were cash. Avoid
providing card and account information to anyone over the telephone.
- When making a cash withdrawal at an ATM, immediately remove
the case as soon as the machine releases it. Put the case in your
pocket and wait until you are in a secure location before counting
it. Never use an ATM in an isolated area or where people are loitering.
- Be sure to take your receipt to record transactions and match
them against monthly statements. Dishonest people can use your
receipt to get your account number. Never leave the receipt at
Protect Your Credit Cards
- Only give your credit card account number to make a purchase
or reservation you have initiated. And never give this information
over a cellular phone.
- Never give your credit card to someone else to use on your behalf.
- Watch your credit card after giving it to store clerks to protect
against extra imprints being made.
- Destroy any carbons. Do not discard into the trash can at the
purchase counter. Keep charge slips in a safe place.
- Protect your purse or wallet, especially when traveling or in
- Save all receipts, and compare them to your monthly statement.
Report any discrepancies immediately!
- Keep a master list in a secure place at home with all account
numbers and phone numbers for reporting stolen or lost cards.
Lost or Stolen Cards
- Always report lost or stolen cards to the issuing company immediately.
This limits any unauthorized use of your card and permits the
company to being the process of issuing a new card.
Crime can be random. But there are steps that limit your chances
of becoming a victim. Being aware of the threat of crime — and
alert to what you can do to prevent it — will go a long way toward
making your electronic transactions safe and private.
Return to Crime Prevention Tips
Crime Prevention Tips Provided by:
National Crime Prevention Council