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Consumer Information: Consumers & the Web

The best way to protect yourself is to be educated on your rights and know how to avoid scams.



While one of the great things about the Internet is that anyone can make a web page, the disadvantage is that the Web is filled with tons of wrong information. When using the Internet to find information, make sure to pay attention to the site you are visiting. You can learn a lot about a site just from how their domain (the main web address) ends. Here are some major domain extensions:

.gov = government .org = organizational .mil = military
.edu = educational .com = commercial .biz = business

Always pay attention to the websites you visit. 


An example:

You need information about a government program but you find two websites with completely different information.  One website ends with .gov while the other ends with .com.  Because you know that only legit government websites can end in .gov and anyone can make a .com website, you know that the .gov website contains the correct information.


  • Be wary of any personal website that gives “official” government or legal information.
  • Avoid websites with no clear author—if no one is willing to claim the site, it’s most likely false.
  • Avoid any website that asks for your personal information or money. NEVER give out your social security number or bank account information. If you are buying merchandise, make sure to investigate the company before giving out your information.
  • Watch for web addresses that are made mostly of numbers, i.e., these sites tend to be scams that “phish” for your personal information.  Even if the website looks like a real website (i.e. Amazon), avoid it if it begins with a string of numbers.  Scammers can make their fake website look like the real thing.


Popups will tell you pretty much anything to get you to click on them.  The truth is though, you didn't really win a prize and your computer isn't infected.  As a good rule of thumb, close out all popups as soon as they open by clicking on the X in the corner of the window or pressing Alt+F4 on your keyboard.  If you are on a website that has a large number of popups, you may want to find another website.

The problems with popups:

  • They can slow your computer down.
  • Many popups lead to adult sites.
  • Some popups trick you into enrolling into programs that require fees or commitment.
  • Some popups will ask for your personal information. 
  • Clicking on some popups can automatically download programs to your computer.


But it says my computer is infected?

NEVER click inside these popups.  Press Alt+F4 or use the X in the corner to close the popup window.  In the majority of cases, these popups are actually a scam to get you to install a malicious program on your computer.  And because you "willingly" installed the program, many anti-virus programs won't immediately catch it.  These programs can be very hard to get off your computer.


Are there any good popups?

Not all popups are bad.  Many government and educational websites have surveys that popup looking for feedback about the website.  The information gathered through these surveys help the organization create better websites for their consumers.


Avoiding popups

Nowadays, most web browsers (i.e. Internet Explorer) have built-in popup blockers.  To get the most out of your browser, make sure you have the latest version installed.  It is also a good idea to keep your browser updated.  Website technology (including popups) is constantly changing.  Being up-to-date will ensure you have the best Web experience possible and will help cut down on the unwanted popups.

There should be no need to install an additional popup blocker. 


Install an Anti-Virus Program

Find a legit anti-virus and install it on your computer.  There are several programs to choose from.  Some programs such as Norton Antivirus charge a yearly fee, but there are also several very effective free anti-virus programs, such as AVG, out there too.

Whatever program you install, try to ran it at least once a week.  Most anti-virus programs will allow you to set up a specific day and time to automatically run the scan. Also because there are new viruses constantly coming out, make sure sure to keep your anti-virus program up-to-date so that you can protect your computer as soon as the new threats come out.


Install an Anti-Spyware Program

Most anti-virus programs also have anti-spyware features.  However, I still recommend installing an additional anti-spyware program because they are sometimes updated sooner than anti-virus programs (meaning they might catch something before your anti-virus does).  Ad-Aware and Spybot Search and Destroy are two good free anti-spyware programs.  You will only need to install one (they might interfere with each other if you install both).

Like the anti-virus program, make sure that you keep the anti-spyware program up-to-date.

* Be very careful downloading anti-spyware programs.  Many programs are actually spyware themselves.  Only download from legit sources or use the links in this guide.

Creating Ideal Passwords

When creating a password for your email or other online accounts, it's tempting to create easy-to-remember passwords such as your birthday or your child's name.  Don't do it! 

One problem is that a large number of identity theft cases are done by people who know the victim.  Think about how many people you talk to about your children.  That's a lot of people who potentially know your password.  Even if the person doesn't know you, information about your birth date and your children's names are surprisingly easy to come across.  Some people will go through your online profiles looking for information, some will even go as far as digging through your trash.


What makes a good password?

A good password will be made up of letters (upper and lower case), numbers and symbols.  Ideally, your password should be between 8 and 15 characters long.  Longer is okay, but shorter isn't.  You can be creative and still come up with easy-to-remember passwords. For example, one of my old passwords was Z0mb1eG0r1ll@.  The original phrase was "zombie gorilla" but I added capital letters and replaced characters with numbers and symbols.  This password was easy for me to remember but not easy for anyone else to figure out.  Another option is to create a password of 3-4 unrelated words strung together: for example, "robotspiderdanceathon".  It's easy to remember because it's silly, but it's not anything that anyone else would think of.


How many passwords to you need?

Generally, that depends on how much you do online.  The more you do, the more passwords you should use.  You should NEVER have a single password for everything.  Think about all your online accounts -- what would happen if someone figured out the password to one of your accounts?  They would immediately go and try that password on all your other accounts.  This is especially dangerous if they have access to your email account.  If they go through your email, they may figure out what social networks you visit, what bills you pay online and even what credit cards you have.

At the minimum, you should have a  separate password for your email, gaming and social networking sites, online bills, credit card accounts and banking accounts.  That's 5 potential passwords. 


How often should I change my password?

How often you change your passwords depends on how often you visit the Internet and how.  The more you're online, the sooner you should change your passwords.  Also, if you regularly use public computers such as at the library, you will need to change your passwords more often.  And finally, it depends on the type of online account.  You should change your email password regularly; however you don't need to change your Yahoo game account password quite so often.

Ideally, you should change your passwords every 3 to 6 months.  The benefit of changing your passwords is that it helps protect your online accounts.  Also anytime that you notice something strange with one of your online accounts, it might be a good idea to change your password.