Online Poker: How not to get cleaned out

How to protect yourself when gambling online from the potential pitfalls of hackers, scammers and shady or illegitimate sites.

Poker face passwords

All this PC security is undone if the passwords you use on the poker sites are easy to guess.

You will need to setup a poker account at the site that you play at, and move money into this account to play in the poker games, so securing this account is important.

Stay away from using easily guessed combinations such as birthdays, pet names or surnames. Your best bet is to use a complex series of numbers and letters – or even a password generator. The password may be harder to remember but importantly it will be much harder to crack.

If you are playing on multiple sites it is best to use different passwords for each one, so if one password or site is compromised, the other passwords you use should remain secure. It's a good idea to routinely change your passwords. Similarly, you may want to setup a second e-mail account specifically for your poker games and transactions so that you keep all information separate from your primary e-mail address.

Another way hackers commonly gain access is via your e-mail security question. Rather than picking something with a simple answer that is readily available to anyone with a bit of search-engine, know-how (like 'what high school did I attend?'), instead create a more complex question, and then provide an answer for it that is totally unrelated – and hence unable to be guessed. (For example, 'What is my favourite ice cream?' – Answer: 'Transformers'). You'd be amazed how sloppy e-mail security give clever people the option to access your in-box using this security feature.

Another security loophole that is often overlooked is the auto-log-in function on Web sites. Most sites you may visit – including free Web-based e-mail and the poker client sites – will give you the option to store your log-in details so you don't actually have to enter your password each time. It may seem like a time saver – as you no longer have to actually type out your password – but anyone who happens to be near your computer will be able to access those accounts too.

Keep an ace up your sleeve

Protecting yourself when playing poker online isn't all about PC software and passwords. You also need to make sure you make the right decisions in regard to where you play poker online and what sites to use. In addition to the online poker/casino site account, the vast majority of online players have what is called an E-Wallet, which is basically similar to the PayPal accounts. E-Wallet services facilitate the transfer of money from one online casino to another and it also helps you to store and withdraw your cash.

There are several reputable E-Wallet services out there, including Neteller, Click2Pay and Moneybookers and if you are starting out it's best to stick to using a big name E-Wallet provider, as smaller operations may be less trustworthy.

The same message is important for finding the right poker site. There are hundreds of online casinos and poker rooms so it can be tough to know where to play.

For new users your best option is to stick to one of the big three; PokerStars, Full Tilt Poker or PartyPoker.com. All of these sites are highly reputable and have large user bases, so they are not only the safest online services but they also offer a broad selection of games.

Plenty of smaller sites and networks also exist and while the chances of anything going wrong on such sites are low, it does happen from time to time.

Most online gambling companies are located overseas, sometimes in obscure parts of the world where gambling legislation is less regulated, which makes them very difficult to police – so we recommend not taking the chance.

As an example, at the time of writing Microgaming, a smaller poker networks' licensee Tusk, had gone into receivership. Tusk handles and stores all the money for many of the Microgaming poker sites, so any player who had money on these skins is waiting to find out if they will see any of their funds.

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