Many Iowans do much of their holiday shopping online instead of in malls, but this season is the busiest time of year for internet fraud and identity thieves. Michael Barrett, information security officer at Omaha-based PayPal, says shopping online can be safe and easy but you need to follow some rules.
First, he says, change up your passwords. Barrett says: "Maybe four or five different passwords and segment them according to risk. You’d use one password for your online banking, another password for your e-mail account, one password for the e-commerce sites and then one password for everything else."
Barrett says mixing up your passwords can make a big difference in keeping your accounts safe. He says, "People tend to pick names of pets or family members thinking, ‘Criminals will never guess my cat’s name is Fluffy.’ Well, actually criminals have dictionaries of common passwords and Fluffy is indeed in there. What we recommend is that people just put a numeric character or special character like an exclamation mark in a funny position in the password." Barrett says that makes it a lot harder for the crooks to come up with your chosen word.
He says if you have had your e-mail account for a while, the spammers likely already have you targeted, which is why you have to be very cautious when exploring junk e-mails. "When you see an e-mail and after you read it, do a mental test on how you are feeling," Barrett says. "If you are feeling really squeamish and you have to act right now, then it’s probably bogus. That’s actually one of the things they are trying to do is engender a sense of urgency because folks like me are out there whacking those websites as fast as we can find them." Barrett says thieves can also access your computer and do all sorts of damage to your accounts. He says it’s vital to keep your anti-virus program current, or it’s like driving with expired insurance.
PayPal is an online payment system owned by eBay, the online auction service, and has more than two-thousand employees in the Omaha-Council Bluffs area.