KEVIN SPROUL: Take caution in dealings with the Internet

SHERIFF'S COLUMN: Information about you, from medical records to banking, are on the Internet

Kevin Sproul

Kevin Sproul

In my last article, I discussed ways you can reduce your digital footprint. The response to that article has been tremendous, so I thought I would follow up with another related topic: Internet security.

I am old enough to remember the time before the Internet. My first home computer was a Commodore 64 and my first online experience was the warbling sound of my dial-up modem connecting with America Online. Since that time, the use of the Internet has grown from an interesting diversion to a daily necessity.

As it stands right now, everything is on the Internet. Everything. All of your personal information, your banking information, your rent or mortgage information, your medical information, is all on the Web. Even if you haven’t provided the information, it is stored with the companies you do business with, on their computer servers, which are probably backed up to “the cloud,” which means that the information is being transmitted over the Internet.

These companies are vulnerable to cyberattack. We know that Target was a recent victim of such an attack, in which customers’ personal information was stolen. Just last month the Department of Homeland Security stated that as many as 1,000 retailers could be using cash registers that are infected with malicious software that could allow hackers to steal customer financial data. You and I have no control over this type of activity.

Then, there are the scams. Criminals will go to great effort to get you to reveal your personal information or help them to carry out their illegal activities. Often, innocent victims become unwilling participants to a criminal scheme, thinking they were doing something completely innocent. One of the latest scams we have seen is for people to “work from home” receiving and re-shipping products. Those products are usually purchased with stolen account information and being shipped to countries that are not allowed to purchase them directly due to a trade agreement or Department of Homeland Security restriction. These “work from home” jobs are scams, even though they may seem like real opportunities. Many are even advertised with popular online job-search companies.

It may seem as though most of this is outside of our control but that doesn’t mean we are powerless. There are three important things we can do:

  1. Make sure that you are exercising as much caution as possible. Anything you do online that requires a password should be taken seriously. Too many of us use the same password for everything. We should ensure that our passwords have a good mix of capital and lower-case letters, along with numbers and special characters. We should also have different passwords for different accounts. It may be a hassle, but it’s worth the effort.

  2. We should look into insurance. We insure our cars and homes against loss, why not our identities? Companies such as LifeLock offer plans with up to $1 million in coverage in the event that your identity is stolen.

  3. Be vigilant about scams. If something seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Finally, if you have any questions or concerns, you can contact my office at (229) 431-3259. The Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office is always here to serve the citizens of this community.

Sheriff Kevin Sproul is a longtime resident of Dougherty County. He is a graduate of Albany High School, Darton College and LaGrange College of Albany. Sproul has been employed with the Dougherty County Sheriff’s Office since 1982 and can be reached at (229) 430-6508.