SEBRING — People often enjoy online shopping or playing Facebook games, but they risk having their identity or money stolen. How does this occur? How can people protect their identities and their funds while still being a part of the online world?

Facebook games often ask questions that are also common security questions used for legitimate accounts. For example, both financial institutions and online games might ask questions such as, what street did you grow up on? If people answer this question, they could give scammers one of the answers to the security questions asked by their banks.

Games may also ask about your high school, elementary school or your first boyfriend or girlfriend. These questions help scammers gather bits of information that can be used to steal your money or create a fake profile on Facebook.

Highlands County Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer Scott Dressel said, “Facebook games are a personal data threat, as are any surveys, contests and the posts that ask for your information to give you a personality test or tell you who you were in a past life or something like that.

“Most of us have done a few of those and they are fun, but the information they ask you to give is just another piece in the puzzle that scammers can use to put together a profile that will allow them to steal your identity,” he said. “Birthdates, addresses, names of pets and children are all tidbits that scammers can use to try to figure out passwords and answers to security questions that can be used to commit online crimes.”

Some Facebook games also ask for access to your friends list or your birthdate. This is an attempt to garner your personal information.

“Anytime you are on the internet, whether playing games, paying bills, researching, whatever else you may be doing, you must be extremely vigilant with the information your allowing to go out into the world wide web,” Lake Placid Police Chief James Fansler said. “It’s a web alright! It’s a web that is set to capture your important information. If you willingly or negligently put it out there, someone will snag it in their web or internet trap and be more than happy to help themselves to your hard earned money or your identity.

“If you are placing any financial related information, such as online purchasing, make certain there is a ‘s’ after the http in the domain address. For instance, https://www.amazon.com is a secured site. The ‘s’ indicates the site takes security measures very seriously,” Fansler said.

“Unless you are on a trusted site, you should never offer your financial information,” he said. “No credit card or debit card information [should be given]. No routing and bank account details. No social security number or Medicare number, which contains your social security number.”

Fansler said, “Scammers are looking for easy marks. Anyone who does a lot of online shopping, bill paying, and overall financial transaction online without taking precautions to verify the sites are secured [would be an easy target]. Most legitimate ones are [secure]. However, sometimes the billing organizations are attacked for the sensitive information.

“My best tip is ‘be cautious at all times when it involves money,’” Fansler said. “For example, if you get an email asking for information, take the time to verify the requester is legitimate. If it’s your bank asking to verify your account details, it is most likely a scam or possibly a clue you need to find another bank. They should not be contacting you to verify your account details; they should already know it.”

“There is no way to be 100 percent safe when it comes to scammers or thieves,” Fansler said. “All you can do is your very best to protect your assets by constantly being aware of scams and not offering your information up for anyone to easily steal.”

Avoid answering any questions on online games that provides personal information, and avoid entering financial information into sites that are not secure. Websites that begin with “https” are secure sites, but even secure websites can be hacked.

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