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Protecting yourself online

Although fraud comes in many forms, there are some simple measures you can take to protect yourself online.

Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software

Detect and eliminate online threats including viruses, Trojans, spyware, adware, scareware and malicious sites by using anti-virus and anti-spyware software.  For full protection against the latest threats, you’ll need to keep your software up-to-date.

Related:An overview of common threats

Install software updates

Install updates to your web browser and software programmes to prevent attackers from using vulnerabilities (or security holes) to sneak threats on to your computer.  

Check your settings

Check the settings of software programmes, particularly those that connect to the internet (such as web browsers and email clients) as their default settings may enable all functionality, giving cyber-criminals access to your computer.  By changing your settings it’s possible to apply a higher level of security while still having all the functionality you need.

Use strong passwords

A weak password leaves you at risk of having your account hacked and your data stolen, but a strong password adds an extra layer of protection. For a strong password use a minimum of 6 characters, a combination of letters, numbers and special characters, and a mix of lower- and uppercase letters.  Remember, it’s best to use a different PIN or password for each account or application you access and to change your passwords regularly.

Use caution when clicking links in emails and instant messages

Most viruses and Trojans are activated when you click a link or open an attachment in an email or instant message, so it pays to use some caution.  Some anti-virus programmes will scan your emails and instant messages for you, identifying and eliminating viruses, infected attachments and suspicious links before you open them.  If you hover your cursor (mouse) over a link in an email or on a web page the website address of the link will be displayed in the status bar or in an information balloon; make sure this is the website you’re expecting before clicking on it.

Related:An overview of common threats

Beware of ‘phishing’

Known as ‘phishing’, fraudsters attempt to steal your data by sending emails requesting personal or financial information, usually directing you to a bogus website that masquerades as a legitimate organisation, often your bank or a website you’ve used previously. Remember! Legitimate organisations will never solicit your personal or financial information via email. 

Related:‘Phishing’ explained

Beware of ‘spam’

Spam is unwanted junk mail that’s automatically sent to thousands of people.  It attempts to generate revenue, defraud you or infect your computer so you should always treat unsolicited email with suspicion.   Unfortunately there are no foolproof ways to eradicate spam but you can cut down the amount you receive by using junk or spam filters in your inbox.

Related:An overview of common threats

Check privacy policies

When providing personal or financial data online, check the website’s privacy policy to understand how your data will be used and stored.   

Related:Gocompare.com Privacy Policy

Only do business with reputable websites

It sounds obvious, but it’s easy to be tricked into giving personal or financial information to dubious organisations. Before transacting on a website, check for authenticity by reviewing the site certificate, locating phone numbers and addresses and searching online for customer reviews. If in doubt, go elsewhere – the internet offers plenty of other options.    

Related:How we protect your data

Make sure your data is encrypted

Many sites, including Gocompare.com, use Extended Validation Secure Socket Layer (EV SSL) to encrypt data. This means that the page is secure and the information you provide cannot be intercepted by a third party.  As a guideline, information that can be used to identify you (for example your name, date of birth, address and suchlike) along with any financial information, should be encrypted using a secure connection. The simplest way to tell if you have a secure connection is to look at your browser address bar; if the page is secure the URL will change from ‘http:’ to ‘https:’ and, depending on the browser you’re using, you’ll also see a locked padlock symbol.

Related:How we protect your data  |  Gocompare.com security statement

Sign-up to Verified  by Visa or MasterCard Secure Code

When shopping online with a Visa or MasterCard you’ll have the option to join the Verified by Visa or MasterCard Secure Code schemes. You’ll register a password with your card company and will be asked to provide this whenever you use your card online, adding an additional layer of security to your online transactions.

Check your statements

Check your bank and credit card statements for fraudulent transactions and report any discrepancies. Likewise, if you receive bills, invoices, receipts or communications about goods or services you have no knowledge of buying or using, take action as you may have become a victim of identity theft.

Related:What to do if you think your security has been compromised

Ensure your wireless router is secure

Most routers are supplied with security features switched off as standard, meaning that anyone within range of your router can connect to it. At best this could slow your connection down, and at worst it could result in the theft of your personal data, such as credit card or online banking details.

To prevent this, you'll need a wireless encryption key, which is a series of numbers, letters and characters that turns data into code and makes hacking more difficult. There are two types of encryption key - Wi-Fi Protected Access (WPA, WPA2) and Wired Equipment Privacy (WEP); of these the former is not only newer but also more robust. You should also consider password-protecting your network.  Most routers come with instructions on how to secure your wireless connection, alternatively, you can seek advice from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).

Only download files or programmes from legitimate sources

Avoid downloading pirated files (music, movies or software) in favour of files or programmes from legitimate sources. While pirated versions may be free, they may also contain malicious software (‘malware’) which can harm your computer system and leave you at risk of online fraud.

Related:An overview of common threats