I’ve recently done a couple of real estate transactions that involved wiring money to an escrow company. It’s been a while since I’ve done that, and I was interested to see, within the instructions for wiring money, a big bold warning:
IF YOU RECEIVE OTHER WIRING INSTRUCTIONS THAT ARE DIFFERENT FROM THE WIRE INFORMATION LISTED BELOW, PLEASE CALL YOUR TITLE COMPANY CLOSING SETTLEMENT OFFICER TO CONFIRM. WE WILL REQUIRE INDEPENDENT CONFIRMATION FOR ANY AMENDED WIRE INSTRUCTIONS FOR INCOMING AND OUTGOING WIRES.
Seriously, shouting with all caps.
Turns out that there are bad guys out there everywhere looking for ways to illicitly separate you from your money. And I don’t mean the guy who flops a set and then checks. I mean, that’s as above-board as it gets, right?
Unfortunately, the fraudsters exist in the online poker world as well as the real estate banking world. Here are four tips to keep you safe in your online play:
Don’t share your screen name and password
This should be obvious, right? If you wouldn’t give somebody your bank ATM card and the PIN for it, don’t give them your online screen name and password. They may or may not be able to cash out your money. But they could certainly bring a confederate to the table and dump your chips off to that person.
Speaking of forgetting passwords, don’t let your laptop or phone remember passwords for you. Again, if somebody gets access to that device, they get access to your online account, and whatever money is in it. I know it’s a hassle to remember your password every time you log into the poker site. It’s a hassle to put in your PIN every time you use your ATM – deal with it.
Use strong passwords
Make your password not obvious, and strong. You’d be astonished at how many people use passwords such as “password”. We’ve all been trained to make passwords full of mixed case letters, numbers, and special characters, such as “mJ@cks0n?”. Which is impossible to remember. And it’s relatively few characters, meaning it can be attacked by a computer with brute force. Suppose, however, you used the names of your maternal grandparents’ kids, starting from the youngest: “nancygeorgedavidsusan”? This is actually stronger (there are twice as many bytes of information, which squares the complexity of a brute force attack) but you should be able to easily remember it. There’s actually a great cartoon pointing this out here.
Also, if there’s a “password hint” field, don’t make the hint too easy. In fact, I have a better idea: don’t use the password hint field at all. If you forget your password, contact the site and have them reset your password.
Be aware of the software on your laptop and phone
You should be doing this anyway, but if you’re playing online poker, it’s another place where you could be vulnerable. There are documented cases of bad actors placing malware on “friends’” phones and laptops that transmitted screen information to the fraudster.
You should be personally responsible for installing any software you’re putting on either your phone or your laptop. And know the source of that software. For your phone, with few exceptions, you shouldn’t download any app that didn’t come from one of the official providers (iTunes and Google Play).
Don’t let anybody you don’t know watch you play
This is along the same lines of sharing your screen name and password. I grant that it’s a ton of fun to have people gather around you and cheer you on as you’re going deep in a tournament. When you’re down to two tables and hit a three-outer to leap into the chip lead, there’s nothing like the roar of a crowd behind you.
Here’s the problem: all those people can see your cards. It would be trivial for somebody to text your cards to another player who’s in your tournament. I mean, everybody is texting on their phones all the time. Nobody notices another human being texting (if we did, our brains could process nothing else).
Is this likely to happen? No, it’s very unlikely. But if you were headed for the final table of the biggest tournament you’ve ever played in, this would be a bad time for some evil rat thief to be standing behind you.
Wrapping it all up
In quick summary:
- Don’t share your screen name and password.
- Use strong passwords.
- Don’t put questionable software on your laptop or phone.
- Don’t let strangers or untrusted people watch you play.
We’ve all gotten used to ensuring the security of various assets we have online – bank accounts, credit cards, and so on. If you’ll just remember to include your online poker account as one of those assets that you protect, you’ll be fine.
Lee Jones has been in the poker industry for over 30 years. He writes at the Global Poker blog, plays poker every chance he gets, and coaches poker. You can contact him at www.leejones.com.