Protecting Yourself Online

Email Safety

Email has become part of the very fabric of our lives. It lets us communicate quickly and easily with friends and family across town or across the globe. But don't let email's convenience make you forget about its potential dangers.

Following a few simple guidelines when using email can help protect you and your computer from identity thieves and unscrupulous businesses.

Treat Email Like a Postcard

Email is not a private method of communication. Anyone with a certain level of technological know-how can read what you send. While it may seem unlikely that anyone would bother trying to read your emails in transit, it's wise to err on the side of caution.

Avoid writing anything in an email that you wouldn't be willing to write on a postcard and drop in a mailbox. That means no personal financial information like account numbers, Social Security numbers, or passwords.

Avoiding Email Viruses

Hardly a week goes by without a major news story about a virus circulating on the Internet by email. These viruses typically arrive in the form of an attachment or link with some enticing or threatening instruction to open it.

But if you open it, the virus can do almost anything–from sending out copies of itself to everyone in your address book to crashing your computer completely. The safest practice is to delete the email and the attachment immediately without opening them, especially if you don't know the sender.

Viruses are tricky though, and the emails they're attached to can seem to be from someone you know or trust, someone who would never knowingly send you a computer virus. So, it pays to be suspicious of unknown attachments and links in general.

Before you open an unexpected attachment or click an unknown link from a friend or family member, you may want to send them an email or give them a call to make sure they sent it.

Dealing with Spam

Unsolicited email—commonly called spam—is a growing problem on the Internet, both for recipients and for companies trying to use email to communicate with customers. Low mortgage rate offers, adult site solicitations, phishing scams and ads for merchandise are all forms of spam.

  • Use a spam filter.A good first line of defense against spam is spam-blocking software. Many email programs like Outlook and Eudora have built-in spam protection tools. Likewise, your Internet service provider may include a spam-blocking system bundled with their service. If these options aren't available to you, look into purchasing and installing spam-blocking software for yourself. These systems do a reasonable job of reducing spam, but they aren't 100% effective.
  • Delete without opening.When you reply or even open a spam message you may be confirming to the spammer that your email address is active. That's likely to mean more spam will be coming your way as the "good" address gets passed around among spammers.
  • Unsubscribe with caution. If spam comes from a company or individual you don't know, following the instructions to "unsubscribe" or be removed from the mailing list isn't likely to stop the spam. Your request will probably just confirm to the spammer that the address is active, and your address is more likely to be added to other lists rather than removed from any.

However, if spam is coming from a company you have a relationship with, they might not realize they're annoying you with these emails. You may have forgotten you signed up for a newsletter or special offers by email. Legitimate businesses that want you as a customer will generally provide you with an email address to contact them to have your name removed from email lists.

  • Block Senders. Nearly all email programs, applications and web interfaces offer an option to block emails from a specific sender. If you are receiving multiple spam emails from the same sender, you can utilize the block sender function to stop these emails from reaching your inbox in the future.
  • Report spammers.Internet service providers often make ongoing efforts to combat spam on their systems. By reporting spam when you receive it, you can sometimes help service providers thwart spammers in the future. Contact your provider to find out if they have procedures in place for you to report spam.
Password Security

Passwords are the first line of defense and an important layer of protection in your cyber security. A good password that you never share is as important as the lock on the door of your home.

The best passwords are complex, memorable and always kept secret. Follow these tips to ensure your personal information stays confidential when you access it online.

Why Use a Complex Password?

Often users find the requirements for a complex password inconvenient. Some have even suggested that if they want to use a very simple password they should be allowed to do so because they're putting only their own information at risk and not jeopardizing others.

That assertion is not true. Website security measures are only as strong as their weakest link, and even one user with a simple password would represent a weak link in our security system. Consequently, Franklin Templeton requires a complex password to access account information for the security of all users.

People often create simple passwords in the interest of making them easy to remember. Unfortunately, this leads to passwords that are easy to guess. Common examples of easy-to-guess passwords include phone numbers, birthdates, names of relatives, or even the word "password."

Names or words that can be found in a dictionary don't make good passwords because they're easy for thieves to crack. Software programs exist that do nothing but crack passwords. Basic versions of these programs can try 2.7 million letter combinations per second. It doesn't take very long to try every word in the dictionary at a rate of 2.7 million words per second.

To make guessing or cracking your password more difficult, you should create a complex password that includes a combination of numbers and letters and that doesn't spell any real words. You can go a step further by using both upper- and lowercase letters.

Remembering Complex Passwords

A complex password doesn't have to be difficult for you to remember. A simple mnemonic device can help you create a password that's both easy to remember and sufficiently complex.

For instance, if your mother drove a blue Chevrolet when you were 12, you might consider basing your password on the sentence "When I was 12, Mom drove a blue Chevy." Combine the first letter of each word plus the number at the end, and you get "WIw12MdabC" as a complex password you can easily remember by reciting the sentence.

Don’t Use the Same Password for All Sites

Chances are you visit more than one website that requires a password. While the temptation may exist to have the same password so that you can easily remember it, you should have different, complex passwords for all the sites where you access personal financial information.

Hackers who steal passwords from one site are known to try those same passwords on other sites. If you use different passwords, a security breach on one site won't put your information on other sites in jeopardy.

Yes, it takes some effort to remember different complex passwords for all the sites you visit. However, keeping personal information secure is worth the effort.

Change Your Passwords Frequently

Some sites require you to change your password after a certain number of days as a part of their security procedures. However, even when a site doesn't require it, you may want to consider taking this additional precaution and change your passwords at least once a year. You may even want to consider changing them quarterly or monthly, depending on your own comfort level.

Phishing

Have you ever received an email from a business asking you to provide personal information like your Social Security number or account number? Chances are it was a scam by someone trying to steal your identity for fraudulent purposes.

What is Phishing?

Phishing is the attempt to steal personal information, identity details or even money through email by masquerading as a legitimate business.

Phishers bait their hooks with an email designed to look like it's from a legitimate source such as a bank, retail site, or some other business you may have an online relationship with. The message typically claims there's a problem with your account and asks you to click a link in the email and return to their site to confirm your account number, credit card information, password or other sensitive information.

Unfortunately, clicking the link can result in a variety of malicious outcomes. The link could take you to a site cleverly designed to look like the business's website, but any information you enter is captured by the phisher, who may use it to steal your identity, make purchases using your credit card or drain money from your accounts. Or clicking the link may download malware/spyware to your system that phishers can then use to steal information from you.

How to Avoid Phishing Scams

Develop a healthy skepticism when reading any email that asks for sensitive information and take a couple of simple steps to protect yourself.

  • Watch out for “red flags.” Phishing emails can often originate from countries outside your own. Strange greetings, currency denominations, typos and grammatical errors in the language of an email are all “red flags” that the email may be a phish. Additionally, any emails with threatening language or requests for immediate action should always be treated with caution. Legitimate businesses will not send out any public communication with these types of errors or hostile language.
  • Retype the URL/Visit the Site Directly. Phishers are very sophisticated in their use of design and technology to make their email lures look legitimate. The URL for the link in a phishing scam email can appear to be a company's valid Web address. However, if you click the link, you're redirected to the phishers' phony site. As such, best practice is to type the address of the site you want to go to directly into your browser rather than clicking the link so you can avoid being redirected.
  • Call the company.Franklin Templeton will never ask for personal financial information from you in an email, and we believe most reputable financial services companies won't either. If you have any doubts about the legitimacy of an email, call the company that sent it by looking up their number online (not using any phone numbers that may have been provided in the suspicious email)

Banks and investment companies typically have phone support in addition to their websites. A quick phone call to the customer service department can let you know if the "problem with your account" is for real.

Public Computers and Public Networks

While airports and other venues with public computer terminals offer convenience, using them could compromise the security of your personal information.

You're on vacation and haven't been able to check email for a week. You stop for a cappuccino and notice a computer terminal in the corner of the coffee shop. It has Internet access and you decide to glance at the headlines on your favorite news website. No problem so far.

Then you decide to visit your bank's website, sign in and check to see if a couple of recent transactions have cleared. Is that a good idea? Probably not since you're using a public computer terminal.

There's no way for you to know what kinds of spyware programs are installed on public terminals. The computer may contain keytracking software or other invasive programs installed by someone who used the terminal previously. Those programs could help someone steal your identity if you're typing in personal information like an ID and password for online access to your bank account or email.

Given the ease with which spyware and other malicious programs can imbed themselves on a personal computer used only by you, it's wise to be extra cautious and never access personal financial data from a computer used by the general public.

Likewise the use of your own computer or mobile phone when connected to a local WiFi can have high risks as well. Local network devices or anchor points sending wireless signals can be infected with viruses and malware. It is recommended that if you are transmitting confidential information that must be protected you should access your devices Settings and verify that WIFI is not enabled and you are not connected to the local establishments WiFi network. This protective action will force your personal device to search for a connection from your primary ISP so that a more secured session can be initiated when required.

A virus is a program that enters your computer without your knowledge and attaches itself to other files, replicating itself and spreading. Spyware is similar in that it invades your computer without your knowledge, but it also monitors your activity. In some cases it may report this activity back to the person who originally wrote the program.

A virus or spyware on your computer can do more than just crash your system or delete files. More insidious strains can present a serious threat to the security of personal information

Keeping your computer free of all unwanted programs is an important aspect of making sure your personal information is secure.

Be Cautious when Downloading

Be aware that whenever you download software or application files from the Internet, you could be allowing a Trojan horse into your system. A Trojan horse is a file that has undesired components like viruses or spyware hidden inside.

These programs vary in the amount of damage they do. One might simply annoy and frustrate you by resetting your browser's home page and not letting you change it back. Another might capture your ID and password as you sign into a financial site and then relay that information back to the source, where it may be used to steal your identity.

Be as certain as possible that you can trust the integrity of the source before downloading anything

Also, it is important to note that the rules that apply to your computer, apply to your smartphone as well.  With the increasing use of mobile banking as well as numerous applications that house personal information, smartphones are a possible treasure trove for hackers looking to steal information. You should only download from reputable applications sources such as the Google Play or iOS stores. “Jailbreaking” your devices to download third-party applications can open you up to malicious software included with your download.

However, you don't have to download something for malicious programs to find their way onto your system. Some of them can sneak onto your computer without any action on your part beyond visiting a website that hasn't taken appropriate steps to prevent hackers from triggering these "drive-by" downloads. Our site has security measures in place to combat this kind of activity.

Keeping Your System Clean

Antivirus and antispyware programs that seek out and destroy spyware are available to help keep such programs off your system. But be aware that viruses and spyware aren't easy to eliminate.

For instance, spyware programs typically hit your computer in clusters rather than single programs. So when spyware A invades your machine, spyware B, C, D and E may also sneak in and find a place to hide. In addition to watching you, these programs watch each other. If spyware A gets deleted, spyware B reaches out to the originator and grabs another copy. So it's important to be disconnected from the Internet before trying to clean these files from your system.

Our Internet security expert recommends running your antispyware and antivirus programs several times in succession. Each run may be able to peel off layers of "masks," allowing the programs to work in tandem to target and destroy spyware and viruses that have been hiding. As a final step, restart your computer. Then run your antispyware and antivirus programs once more.

This process may seem like overkill, but many experts believe it's worth the effort to keep your system clean. If you'd rather not do all of what's described above, it's a good idea to run the antispyware and antivirus programs at least once.