Reports of a massive data breach are a timely reminder to consumers that they should use strong passwords, use different ones on different accounts and avoid sharing sensitive data, Better Business Bureau (BBB) advises.
The New York Times and other news outlets published stories last week alleging that hackers had stolen 1 billion passwords and other data. The reports indicated the hackers had penetrated a wide variety of websites and obtained sensitive data. None of the compromised websites was identified.
“Reports of stolen passwords are a common and worrisome occurrence,” said Michelle L. Corey, BBB President and CEO. “Consumers need to be vigilant in protecting their accounts by using strong passwords and not sharing them with anyone.”
Experts say consumers should avoid using the same password for all accounts. In addition, passwords should not use current addresses, dates of birth or other information that could be used by thieves to commit identity theft. Strong passwords include a variety of lower- and upper-case letters, numbers and symbols.
BBB also advises consumers to hang up on unsolicited calls or emails that ask for personal information, such as bank account or credit card numbers, dates of birth, Social Security numbers or other sensitive data. If you get a call that your bank account has been frozen or your credit card has been compromised, hang up and call the customer service number for your financial institution.
More BBB tips for securing your personal information:
- Never reply to unsolicited emails. If the message includes a link within it, never click it. Many schemers use this as a way to spread a viral attack on your computer.
- Do not give personal or financial information to anyone who contacts you via email. Your bank, the IRS or a law enforcement agency will not contact you by email. They will send you a letter.
- Spread the word. Discuss phishing scams with all family members who have email addresses. Young people may be computer savvy, but not scam savvy. Older adults often are targeted by scammers, too. Transmitted information should be encrypted. When sending personal information like addresses, credit card numbers and Social Security numbers over the Internet, make sure the website is fully encrypted and the network is secure. Look for https (the “s” stands for secure) at the beginning of the URL address.
- Know the red flags. Poor grammar or misspelled words are red flags that the email is probably a scam. Most importantly, never wire money based on instructions in one of these suspicious emails. Scammers prey on those who think they need to wire money to have a situation resolved.
- Protect your computer. Keep your antivirus software up to date and run it regularly.
For more consumer tips or to check out a business or charity, go to www.bbb.org or call (314) 645-3300.