Staying safe online

Keep washing your hands – virtually. Protect yourself against email scams and bogus websites. Use strong passwords and protect your devices. The cloud is safer than you think.

Keep washing your hands – virtually

Over the last couple of years, we have spent a great deal of time and energy on washing our hands, wiping down surfaces and staying two metres away from our friends and colleagues – all in a bid to get to grips with an old-fashioned type of virus.

Maintaining the same high standards of hygiene and vigilance in our online lives is just as important. Just as anyone can catch a cold, the flu or Covid, for that matter… anyone can fall victim to a scam or catch a computer virus. And as is the case with Covid, the key to protecting yourself online is being mindful of what you are doing and knowing what you should be on the lookout for. Elliot Finch is IQ’s technology strategist: this week, he shares some of his tips for staying safe online.

Email scams and bogus websites

“Even after several decades of email, cybercriminals are still using it as a vector for extracting personal information about you”, says Elliot. Such emails might try to get you to visit a bogus website. Or they might try to fool you into thinking that there is a problem with one of your online accounts. “And everybody has, at some point, received an email from some mysterious munificent party claiming they have won a prize or been named as the beneficiary of somebody’s will”.

If you have even the slightest doubt about the provenance of an email, don’t open any attachments it might contain, click on any links or forward it to anyone. If you do so, you will run the risk of downloading malware onto your computer or mobile device that will give the scammer control of it.

“Be on the lookout for spelling or grammar mistakes, or any phraseology that seems out of place”, continues Elliot. Similarly, requests for bank details, online credentials or any other type of personal information are usually a sure sign that something is amiss. “And don’t give in to any attempts to make you feel anxious or elicit a precipitated response from you”.

Bogus websites are used to elicit personal information from people.

“There has been a dramatic increase in their numbers since the start of the pandemic. Somebody might try to recreate your bank’s website, for example, in an attempt to get you to upload your account information. The last couple of years has seen an explosion in the number of websites purporting to be legitimate NHS portals. Fraudsters use them to glean information about you that could be used for identity theft (such as your date of birth, your NHS number, your mother’s maiden name, where you went to school, etc.)”.

These websites are designed to dupe you, so you should look out for any clues – such as slightly odd-looking graphics, links that don’t work or inconsistencies in the layout. A good way to verify a site’s legitimacy is to type the URL into a separate browser window – rather than clicking a link in an email.

Of course, there are numerous other scams out there.

Relationship scams, for example, will often involve contact via social media or a dating website. Fraudsters attempt to gain your trust and are usually quite patient in doing so. It can sometimes be weeks before they start asking for money – often once they have shared a hard-luck story with you (about their need for urgent medical treatment, for example).

Then there are health scams. We have all received text messages and emails about wonderful new weight loss products or miracle cures – for everything from baldness to memory loss. It goes without saying that whatever it is that these people are peddling, it is bound to be expensive, of inferior quality and sometimes even harmful. Or the email is just part of a phishing scam designed to extract valuable personal information from you.

Use strong passwords and protect your devices

Far too many of us use the same password for every single aspect of our online existence. And many of us are guilty of using passwords that are ridiculously easy to guess (such as “123456” or even “PASSWORD”). Obviously, as we lead ever-greater chunks of our lives in cyberspace, it becomes increasingly difficult to keep track of impossible-to-guess, strong passwords. That’s where password management software can come in handy.

DashLane is a subscription-based password manager and digital wallet application that is available on macOS, Windows, iOS and Android, but there are plenty of free ones out there as well, such as LastPass. Most use enterprise-grade levels of encryption, and feature form fillers that automate password entering and form completion”. They also feature multi-factor authentication – which is essential when you have user data to protect that might include personal identification or financial assets.

Now that remote working has become the norm, make sure that you protect your wireless network. You can do this by ensuring that you have a good strong hexadecimal password that nobody else can access. Your wireless router will include instructions for setting one up.

You should also install anti-virus software on your computer. Again, this is common sense, but people overlook this. Anti-spyware software will prevent unwanted adverts and pop-ups. And it can stop people from getting hold of your credit card and bank details. Reputable paid-for solutions include Norton and McAfee, but there are many free ones available from companies such as AVG and even Microsoft.

Keep your devices safe. Nowadays, everybody uses their mobile or tablet to access the Internet. Anti-virus software and password-protection solutions also exist for these devices. And whatever you are using– be it a PC, a Mac or a phone – always make sure that your operating systems are up-to-date.

The cloud is safer than you think

Your data might feel safe, sitting there snugly on your local hard drive – there is something reassuring about having it where you can “see” it. But in fact, the level of protection afforded by cloud storage solutions is infinitely more sophisticated: it is often protected by up to six layers of security.

There is, needless to say, a cost associated with cloud storage. But it is minimal. Microsoft’s OneDrive, for example, gives you 5 GB for free or 1 TB with a paid Office 365 subscription. An additional 100 GB is only £1.99 per month.

Shopping online is not without risk

Who knows how many intermediary servers your credit card details transit through on their way to Amazon’s or eBay’s payment processing centres?

In actual fact, credit cards are more secure than ever. Regulators, card providers and banks go to considerable efforts to collaborate with investigators worldwide to ensure fraudsters aren’t successful. And cardholders’ money is usually protected from scammers with regulations that hold the card provider and bank accountable. Yet… scammers still scam.

A number of “challenger” FinTech companies have therefore come up with disposable virtual cards. These are intended for online or one-off uses and can be regenerated as many times as required. Each virtual card has a new unique card number, meaning that your actual card details are never shared with vendors.

“Virtual cards help to protect against financial fraud by being instantly freezable or, in the case of disposable cards, simply intended for single use. This means that the card details that you leave with the vendor cannot be used to access your account after the single time you gave permission”, says Elliot.

Be naturally sceptical

Online security is something that Investment Quorum takes extremely seriously. Client data is encrypted at rest and in transit, and access to it is granted via multifactor, biometric authentication. We also use a range of other solutions – including AI analysis tools – to bolster the protection of our endpoints, office network and cloud. And we have an audit trail of each and every action performed on our systems – in both our internal logs, as well as those provided by Darktrace’s Enterprise Immune System.

“When it comes to online security”, says Elliot, “use your common sense. This might seem obvious, but our own native intelligence is our first defence against online scammers. All of us, at one time or another, have clicked on things without thinking. Just don’t take the bait”, cautions Elliot. “You will avoid downloading non-essential cookies onto your hard drive and you will most likely avoid falling prey to malware”. If you are suspicious of an email or website… then do nothing. It’s as simple as that. If something looks a little suspicious or too good to be true… the chances are that it is.

Security is the cornerstone of our IQ Wealth app. Your financial information is safeguarded using bank-level encryption, and the mobile app is further protected with your own six-digit pin. And with our enhanced privacy controls, you get to decide who your information is shared with (your partner, your adviser…).

If you have not already done so, why not download IQ Wealth now and take it for a test drive? Available for both iOS and Android, it will provide you with a snapshot of your entire financial life, and enable you to communicate with us – safely and securely.

Author Picture
Elliot Finch
Head of Technology
Elliot Finch is Investment Quorum's Head of Technology. He finds and implements company software to ensure the client experience is as smooth and efficient as possible.
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