August 6, 2008

The Day, New London, Conn., Anthony Cronin Column

By Anthony Cronin, The Day, New London, Conn.

Aug. 3--If it looks fishy, it probably is phishy -- at least when it comes to the Internet.

That's the sound advice of Lisia Quinlivan, a vice president and manager of electronic commerce at the Westerly-based Washington Trust Co. bank.

Quinlivan is an expert in online banking and Web-based security and she knows that "phishing" -- slang for online fraud -- is one of the most common, and insidious, security problems that we face in this cyber age.

As a recent Wall Street Journal article points out, phishing relies mostly on human gullibility, rather than sophisticated computer software or online sleight of hand.

Basically, phishing uses a couple of common ploys, including "official looking" Web sites and emails that attempt to get you, the computer user, to reveal confidential information. Once the computer hacker gets the information -- your bank account number, for instance -- he or she is off and running into the fertile fields of online fraud.

Quinlivan stresses that banks never ask you for such information online -- from passwords and account numbers to your Social Security number. So never reply to such emails, and never click on their official looking, but bogus, links seeking confidential information.

Quinlivan also says that most institutions, including her bank, have computer and security experts. Washington Trust, she points out, has a Security Center that offers timely advice about identity theft -- how to identify it and what to do if you feel you've been victimized.

In addition, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., the federal agency that protects bank deposits, offers plenty of sound advice at its Web site at

Quinlivan, an advocate of online banking, says that most traditional paper-type bank statements are more prone to fraud than online sources.

She cites a study this past year by Javelin Strategy and Research that says more than 90 percent of fraud comes from lost or stolen wallets, credit cards, checkbooks and other confidential information -- a little over 8 percent can be defined as cyber fraud.

To help protect you while online, Quinlivan offers these "best practices" to ensure your identity and confidential information remain safe:

--Refrain from clicking on Web links in any email; instead type the Web address into your online browser to ensure it's an authentic site.

--Secure-type Web pages always have an "https" at the beginning of the computer address, called the URL, and your computer will also likely include an icon of a padlock in your browser window to ensure the site is secure, and legit.

--Always keep your computer's antivirus software up to date, and routinely run security scans. Sure, they can take a long time to scan, but they're on your computer for your protection, so do use them.

--Review your accounts regularly. And remember to check for any suspicious activity. If you see anything, call your bank or financial institution.

--And use a computer browser that includes "phishing" filters. Among the more popular browsers, Internet Explorer and Firefox offer filters protecting you from such fraudulent phishing forays.

Anthony Cronin is the Day's business editor.


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