At first glance, asking whether computer viruses can compromise the safety of your credit card numbers seems the same as asking whether cold viruses make your nose run. However, not all viruses are created, or misbegotten, equally. Some of them are just pesky programs created by bored kids who think having strangers' screens go blank or display NHL locker room talk is funny. It is the trojans and phishing programs you need to watch out for.
Beware the Trojan
You may have clicked on an attachment that came with an email message from your bank, your credit card company or your favorite store. Then, nothing happened. That is because that email was a forgery, and the file was a trojan, a nasty little program that sends information from your computer to someone else's via the Internet. Boom. You are one of the approximately 10 million computer users who, according to anti-virus software firm Panda, have downloaded trojans to their computers. Your credit card numbers, as well as all of your financial data, are now in jeopardy.
You get an offer you can't refuse from an online retailer or a request from an auction site or payment processor to update your details. However, that email doesn't lead to an official site, and you noticed only after you entered the information that the message was addressed to "Deer Mz. Konsoomer." You are now a victim of phishing, and your credit card number will soon be used by some rather undeserving, albeit perhaps underprivileged, individuals who will use it to buy the sorts of things you don't think about until they show up on your card statement and leave you in shock.
What to Do?
Stop all of your credit and bank cards immediately if you even suspect you have fallen victim to a trojan or a phishing scam. Chances are the phishing scammers also gave you a cute little trojan as a gift, so you may be giving them all of your financial information each time you log into your bank or credit card site. Run a top-notch antivirus program to clean the trojan off your computer, or contact an expert if the program shows a virus that it cannot remove.
One byte of prevention is worth a terabyte of cure. Never respond to any emails from financial institutions that contain attachments or links unless there is a clear indication they are from the actual source. Just delete them and immediately empty your trash. Keep an antivirus program with a virus shield running at all times, and stop using your computer if you see consistent virus warnings from the program. Let an expert handle persistent virus infections if you cannot completely reformat your hard disk yourself.
John DeMerceau is an American expatriate entrepreneur, marketing analyst and Web developer. He now lives and works in southeast Asia, where he creates websites and branding/marketing reports for international clients. DeMerceau graduated from Columbia University with a Bachelor of Arts in history.