How to Protect Yourself Online
Here are a few suggestions on ways to keep your personal information and
money more secure when you go online:
- Beef Up Your Security. Personal firewalls and security
software packages (with anti-virus, anti-spam, and spyware detection
features) are a must-have for those who engage in online financial
transactions. Make sure the computer you are using has the latest security patches,
and make sure that you access your online brokerage account only on a
secure web page using encryption. The website address of a secure
website connection starts with "https" instead of just
"http" and has a key or closed padlock in the status bar
(which typically appears in the lower right-hand corner of your
Tip: Even if a web page starts with "https" and contains a
key or closed padlock, it's still possible that it may not be secure.
Some phishers, for example,
make spoofed websites which appear to have padlocks. To double-check,
click on the padlock icon on the status bar to see the security
certificate for the site. Following the "Issued to" in the
pop-up window you should see the name matching the site you think you're
on. If the name differs, you are probably on a spoofed site.
- Use a Security Token (if available). Using a security
token can make it even harder for an identity thief to access your
online brokerage account. That's because these small number-generating
devices offer a second layer of security - a one-time pass-code that
typically changes every 30 or 60 seconds. These unpredictable
pass-codes can frustrate identity thieves. While fraudsters can use
keystroke logging programs to obtain regular username and password
information, they can't use these programs to obtain the security
token pass-code. Ask your brokerage firm if you can protect your
online account with a security token or similar security device.
- Be Careful What You Download. When you download a
program or file from an unknown source, you risk loading malicious
software programs on your computer. Fraudsters often hide these
programs within seemingly benign applications. Think twice before you
click on a pop-up advertisement or download a "free" game or
- Use Your Own Computer If You Can. It's generally safer to access
your online brokerage account from your own computer than from other
computers. If you need to use a computer other than your own, you
won't know if it contains viruses or spyware. If you do use another
computer, be sure to delete all of the your "Temporary Internet
Files" and clear all of your "History" after you log
off your account.
- Don't Respond to Emails Requesting Personal Information.
Legitimate entities will not ask you to provide or verify sensitive
information through a non-secure means, such as email. If you have
reason to believe that your financial institution actually does need
personal information from you, pick up the phone and call the company
yourself - using the number in your rolodex, not the one the email
Tip: Even though a web address in an email may look legitimate,
fraudsters can mask the true destination. Rather than merely clicking on
a link provided in an email, type the web address into your browser
yourself (or use a bookmark you previously created).
- Be Smart About Your Password. The best passwords are
ones that are difficult to guess. Try using a password that consists
of a combination of numbers, letters (both upper case and lower case),
punctuation, and special characters. You should change your password
regularly and use a different password for each of your accounts.
Don't share your password with others and never reply to "phishing"
emails with your password or other sensitive information. You also
shouldn't store your password on your computer. If you need to write
down your password, store it in a secure, private place.
- Use Extra Caution with Wireless Connections. Wireless
networks may not provide as much security as wired Internet
connections. In fact, many "hotspots" - wireless networks in
public areas like airports, hotels and restaurants - reduce their
security so it's easier for individuals to access and use these
wireless networks. Unless you use a security token, you may decide
that accessing your online brokerage account through a wireless
connection isn't worth the security risk. You can learn more about
security issues relating to wireless networks on the website of the Wi-Fi
- Log Out Completely. Closing or minimizing your browser
or typing in a new web address when you're done using your online
account may not be enough to prevent others from gaining access to
your account information. Instead, click on the "log out"
button to terminate your online session. In addition, you shouldn't
permit your browser to "remember" your username and password
information. If this browser feature is active, anyone using your
computer will have access to your brokerage account information.