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Our daily interactions with family, businesses and government agencies are moving further and further into the online world. The response to Covid-19 has only accelerated this shift into cyber space. Unfortunately, this can be a dangerous place where predators lurk, and cyber sharks feast on unsuspecting, often mature-age prey.

However, there are simple yet effective measures to protect yourself. In the first part of this two-part article, we share tips from IT professionals, which may save you thousands of dollars and hours of frustration.

Tip 1: Never use your good credit card online

Instead, ask your bank to set you up with a second Visa or Mastercard debit card.  Only use this secondary card for online transactions, and only transfer into this account what you need over the next week. With online banking, this is easy enough.

If this card ever gets compromised, your good credit card is still secure. Too often we hear of predators feasting on their victim’s Visa or Master Cards with credit lines of thousands of dollars. Professional cyber sharks can gobble up your full credit limit in a matter of minutes.

If you used your good credit card online in the past, ask your bank for a new card with a different number. It only takes a few minutes and may save you thousands and days of frustration.

Tip 2: Put cold callers on ice

You heard it before, but hundreds still fall for it every week: Do not act on calls, text messages or emails that come out of the blue. Whether the caller claims to be from Microsoft, Telstra, the Tax Office, or the Prime Minister, firmly tell them you never act on cold calls. Never volunteer any personal details. Neither Microsoft nor Telstra will ever call to alert you to a problem with your computer. There are no African princelings in urgent need to transfer $20 million.

If the caller seems to call in a legitimate matter, ask for their full name, contact number, and a reference under which you can call back. Do not get lured into demands and threats. Just repeat your question for a name, contact number and reference, or simply hang up. If the caller answered your questions, tell them to ring you back later and end the conversation. Then check the contact number against the official number published on the organisation’s own website, or on previous correspondence you had with this organisation. If all checks out, wait for their second call, or call them back with the reference number you were given.

Should you have difficulties understanding a caller on the telephone, ask for someone from their Australian call centre to ring you back. Do not hesitate to be firm. After all, they want your business.  If they don’t have an Australian call centre, perhaps it is time to change providers.

Tip 3: Two emails to keep you safe and sane

Divide and rule over the flood of emails by using a primary and a secondary email address. The primary email is reserved for family, close friends and official purposes like banking, health care and government agencies. The secondary email is used for social media, games, online purchases and other, non-essential activities.

This ensures your important contact details are not shared among services with often lax security protocols preferably targeted by hackers. It also helps to reduce the amount of spam in your primary mailbox.

Unless you are bound for life to your internet service provider (Bigpond, Optus, TPG, Dodo, etc), it is advisable to not use their email service. A change of provider down the track will lead to the loss of this email account. We recommend to either sign up with reputable specialist email providers like Fastmail or Protonmail, or get a free account with Microsoft (Live.com or Hotmail.com) or Apple’s iCloud service. Google’s Gmail and Yahoo! Mail are fine, as long as you are aware that your emails are scanned for key words and your eyeballs are the product Google and Yahoo! sell to advertisers.

Useful links:

Australian Cyber Security Centre: https://www.cyber.gov.au/acsc/individuals-and-families

SuperSecure Protonmail email account: https://protonmail.com/signup

Secure Fastmail email, born and bred in Australia: https://www.fastmail.com/

Free Microsoft email account: https://outlook.live.com/owa/

And please don’t fall for the new online lover, who needs just a few thousand of your dollars to save him (or her) from impending doom. Trust is good. Verification is better.

If you prefer professional IT support for a security check-up at home or for your business, call on the specialists at Ballan Computers today. They are local IT professionals and just a phone call away.

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Ralf Schumann
Author: Ralf Schumann