CHARLESTON — In honor of Data Privacy Day, West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey is urging citizens and businesses to take steps to protect themselves online from scammers and would-be identity thieves.
“So much of life now happens online, be it communicating with friends, banking, shopping, or paying bills, so it is important for citizens and businesses to make sure they are using the appropriate safeguards,” Morrisey said in a press release. “Data Privacy Day is designed to raise awareness and simply remind people that they must take steps to ensure their personal information stays private.”
Morrisey offered these suggestions to citizens to ensure their personal information remains secure:
- Make sure your computer’s security software, web browser, and operating system are up to date. They provide the best defenses against viruses, malware, and other online threats.
- Protect all devices that connect to the Internet including computers, smart phones, gaming systems, USBs, external drives and other web-enabled devices against viruses and malware.
- Change passwords to websites frequently and do not use the same password for multiple websites.
- Do not open emails or click on links from people you don’t know or look suspicious. If you receive a suspicious email from someone you know, contact them to make sure it is legitimate.
- Do not post anything online that you don’t want to be potentially shared with the world, including your address, Social Security number, travel plans or inappropriate images or comments. Presume that anything you post will be accessible forever even if you think you have deleted it.
- Set privacy settings on social media so you can control who sees your information.
- Be wary of social media posts or emails that implore you to act immediate, donate money, or ask for personal information.
- Use two-step verification or multi-factor authentication whenever offered to prevent unauthorized access to certain websites.
- Password protect any mobile devises, tablets, computers and wireless routers.
Businesses should also take steps to protect their information as well as any information collected on their customer. Tips for businesses, include:
- Only collect personal information from customers if absolutely necessary or required by law. Safely dispose of that information as soon as it is no longer needed.
- If you collect personal information from customers, be open and honest about why it’s needed and how you will collect, use and share it.
- Make sure the business computer system has appropriate safeguards to prevent hacking. Even small businesses can become victims of hackers.
- Monitor or register sites with similar spelling to yours and regularly search the Internet for use of your corporate logos. Make sure all uses are legitimate.
- Provide your customers with an email address or customer service phone number that allows them to validate that an email they receive with your branding is really from you.
- Monitor returned email messages as scammers often may hijack your email address to send bulk emails.
- Keep track of customer service calls and check for spikes in certain types of complaints such as a password inquiries and changes. Check for unusual customer account activity such as large volumes of logins, password changes, purchases, withdrawals, etc
“Our hope is that these tips will help all West Virginians stay safe online and avoid becoming victims of identity theft, hackers, or scammers,” Morrisey said. “Reputations take years to build, but an unsavory character online can ruin that reputation quickly.”
Those who think they might have been a victim of identity theft or an online scam are asked to call the Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division at 800-368-8808. They also can file a report online at www.wvago.gov.