Frequently Asked Questions About Online Privacy

What should I do if my online account has been hacked?

Your online webmail or social networking account can be hijacked (taken over by an unauthorized individual) in a variety of ways. If one of your accounts is hacked, you may be locked out of access to your own account. That’s because the unauthorized user is likely to change your password. They may then use your account to send spam, impersonate you, or otherwise commit unlawful activities.

If the unauthorized user has not changed your password, the solution is simple – just change your password to one that the impersonator will not know. However, if someone has taken over your account entirely and changed your password, it can be difficult to recover. Generally, there is no phone number that you can call to correct the problem.

Normally, you will need to prove that the account is yours before a provider will restore your access. This process will vary depending upon the particular site that has been hacked.

These are the account recovery pages for several popular sites:

How do I know if a website is trustworthy?

Look for a privacy “seal of approval,” such as TRUSTe on the first page of the website. TRUSTe participants agree to post their privacy policies and submit to audits of their privacy practices in order to display the logo. Other seals of approval are offered by the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and VeriSign.

What is encryption?

Encryption is a method of scrambling an e-mail message or file so that it is gibberish to anyone who does not know how to unscramble it. The privacy advantage of encryption is that anything encrypted is virtually inaccessible to anyone other than the designated recipient.

Thus, private information may be encrypted and then transmitted, stored, or distributed without fear that it will be read by others.

Strong encryption programs such as PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) are available online. PC World offers a free download.

Are cybercafes, airports, libraries and other publicly-available Internet terminals private?

For some things. We advise that you do not use public terminals to access your bank account, check your credit card statement, pay bills, shop, or access any other personally or financially sensitive information. Publicly available Internet terminals are not likely to be closely supervised to ensure online privacy and security. In addition, they are used by many individuals every day.

Ask the company that operates the public terminal how often they check their computers for spyware. Find out if they have installed a program that deletes cookies, erases surfing history, removes temporary files, and clears Internet caches.

If the program does not automatically activate when users log off, find out how you can run the program before you end your session.

Cache is a file on the computer’s hard drive used by the browser to store Web pages you have visited, documents you have retrieved, and graphics from sites you’ve recently visited. When you use the BACK feature, or any other means to revisit a document or Web site, the browser first checks to see if it is in cache and will retrieve it from there because it is much faster than retrieving it from the server.

There’s much more about online privacy on the CFC Education Foundation Privacy Protection Consumer Guide.

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