She Asks IT, He Answers IT

To Click Or Not To Click

She Asks IT

It started innocently enough: an invitation to take an IQ test on Facebook.

I whipped through the seemingly easy questions, certain I had squashed Charles like a bug. But, before the app gave me my “genius” score, it asked for a bit of additional information, including my cell phone number.

I may have paused for a second, but that was it. And as soon as I entered the phone number, I found out how high my IQ really was.

I started receiving texts. Not just any texts. Premium texts that cost $9.95 each! Immediately, I called Verizon. Their kind (and non-judgmental) customer service agent removed the few charges I had already incurred and turned off the premium text messaging feature altogether, in case I bought the Brooklyn Bridge again.

Since then, I have adopted a “better safe than sorry” attitude and become more aware of possible scams and viruses. Just last week, I received an email containing a link from a social media friend. She had never before sent me an email, and I instantly let her know via text that she may have been hacked. (She had.) However, if that same message had come from someone who emailed me regularly, I might have just clicked on it without thinking.

So, how can I keep web predators at bay? How do I know if a link leads to a virus, scam or spyware?

In other words, what are the best ways to protect myself online?

He Answers IT

As you now know, scammers and spammers are good at what they do. They wrap their scams in pretty packages: fake antivirus programs with interfaces as fancy as any from a large corporation, emails from “friends” with catchy sounding links, and websites with free applications promising to fill your every need.

I have done it myself: clicked a link that spawns three or four popup windows and a shameful “oops” from me. However, when you work with computers all day, every day, it begins to give you a feel for what not to do. I get calls all the time from clients who want to run something by me before they make the “to click or not to click” decision.

It is impossible to cover everything in just a few words, but let me list a few things to watch out for:

  1. Beware of clickable links in emails, especially very short emails, no matter who they are from.

  2. Never open an attachment that has not been scanned with up to date virus scanning software. (Even then, if you do not know what it is, be extremely cautious.)

  3. Be very careful when looking for “free software” to accomplish some task, such as document conversion, .pdf creation or an online music app. It usually comes with spyware of some type. Sometimes it can be “unselected” during the install, sometimes it cannot.

  4. Finally, be extremely careful what you click on while surfing the web. Always pay attention to where the actual URL (the part that starts with http://) is taking you. Just roll over it with your mouse (For example, if you want to visit a site about Toyota vehicles, but the link shows, you can be pretty sure it is not a site worth visiting.)

All that being said, good software and hardware can handle most of the online safety decisions for you. Antivirus software, web filtering applications, firewall devices, and acceptable use policies can prevent 90 percent of the potential problems. For the other 10 percent, well, we are just a phone call away.