We’ve all made a purchase online and at least wondered briefly about the security of the transaction. And as we’ve seen in the news multiple times over the last few months, even extremely large companies sometimes have difficulty protecting their customers’ data from cyber criminals.

You might already know that here at Metropolitan Title we use encryption to secure our clients’ personal information in implementing best practices to keep you protected. But in always looking out for the people living in the wonderful Indiana communities we serve, we thought it would be helpful to let you know about other things you can do to keep your personal finances and information safe online.

The facts . . .

In 2013, the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center received 262,813 consumer complaints of cyber-crime resulting in losses of $781,841,611. This is a 48% increase from 2012. Internet-based crime is on the rise, and criminals are developing increasingly sophisticated ways of stealing money. Innocent people are falling victim to scams involving software viruses spread through email, wire fraud, stolen personal information, and cyber criminals hacking wireless networks.

Watching out for email scams . . .

You most likely proceed with caution when opening an email from someone you don’t know, but you should also be mindful of suspicious looking emails coming from friends, co-workers, and family as well. Often times links contained in suspicious looking email can open the door for malicious software to automatically install on your computer, making usernames, passwords, and other data vulnerable to cyber criminals. The lesson? Never click on a link contained in a suspicious looking email.

Never give out personal information without due diligence . . .

Always be careful when sharing personal information online. Understand whom you are sharing the information with, why it is being requested, and whether there is another way to provide the information besides online. When you are verifying these details, be sure to call a phone number that you know is legitimate and talk with a live operator. Use a phone number listed on a statement or bill if possible, and never be afraid to voice your hesitation in order to find another option.

Be skeptical about someone requesting funds quickly . . .

If you are in a position where you must wire transfer funds, never do so under pressure. Cyber criminals want you to feel as though you are under duress, in hopes that you act without thinking. Emails tailored to look like they were sent from a party you know may instruct you to wire funds. Don’t do it until you are absolutely sure that the party is who they say they are and the location of the wire transfer is legitimate. If you aren’t able to contact the person with a number you know is genuine, call known associates and try to establish contact that way.

Refrain from over-sharing on social media. . .

We all love the benefits of social media – seeing important moments in the lives of friends and family we don’t often get to see or talk with, enjoying a moment of connection when we share our thoughts and find many others in agreement – but it’s important to not over-share personal information on social media.

Cyber criminals prowl online for detailed information about lives of people they can then use to impersonate, break into accounts, or set-up scams. Be skeptical about someone you do not know requesting your friendship on a social network. Do your homework and research them before accepting their request, and be smart about the details of your life you are sharing on social media.

Show caution when connecting to wireless networks . . .

Wireless networks are everywhere and they make using the web very easy and convenient, but they can also be insecure. You must exercise caution when connecting wirelessly, even on networks you think can be trusted. Before logging on to a wireless network, ask yourself if you personally know and trust the owner of the network. If your answer is “No,” then do not use the network to bank, buy items, or send personal information. Be sure that your operating system and firewall software are up-to-date and disable file and printer sharing. Never save passwords in your browser.

Criminals can monitor a wireless networks using a technique called “sniffing.” When you are on a wireless network, you should check the URL of any website that involves personal information. If the URL begins with http://, the connection is not encrypted and should be considered vulnerable to sniffing.

If the URL begins with https://, the connection is encrypted. Look for the lock icon in the bottom status bar or the URL field of your browser if you are unsure if the connection is encrypted. By clicking or double-clicking on the lock icon, you should see a window detailing the type of encryption used by the site.

Filing a cyber-crime complaint

Finally, if you think you’ve been the victim of cyber-crime, you may file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center at http://www.ic3.gov/default.aspx. You can also learn more about how to protect yourself from cyber crime at the FBI website, http://www.fbi.gov/about-us/investigate/cyber.

Of course, you are always welcome to stop by any Metropolitan Title office with questions, thoughts, or concerns. We are always here to help.