Identity theft is a serious and pervasive problem. The popularization of the Internet in the 1990s made the web one of the number one places that criminals go when trying to steal your identity. The bad news is that enterprising bad guys primarily use spyware and email scams to access personal account numbers and identity information. The good news is that you can help protect yourself from identity theft by following these steps.
Difficulty: Medium Easy
Step 1: Get protection.
It is absolutely essential for you to use an anti-spyware program if you are going on line. Spyware are computer programs that are downloaded onto your computer. They can make files of everything that you type when you are online and send this information to the maker of the program. Fortunately, it is easy to get anti-spyware software. If you buy an anti-viral program like Norton or McAfee, anti-spyware software is included. There are stand-alone programs that are commercially available as well. There are also programs that can be downloaded for free. The free programs will block some spyware but they are not as good as the commercial programs. If you are downloading free anti-spyware programs, you might want to download more than one to increase your protection.
Step 2: Use secured sites.
If you have anti-spyware protection, it is perfectly fine to use the Internet for shopping. However, you should never type any personal information onto a site that is not secure. Your computer will have some sort of an icon on the menu bar to indicate when you are using a secured site. The icon and the location will vary depending on what computer and browser you are using. If you use Internet Explorer on an HP computer, the icon is a yellow lock on the bottom menu bar. Find out how to tell if the site is secure and then never type information onto a site that is not secure. If possible, use payment methods like PayPal that are secured and bonded.
Step 3: Be careful with Email.
The latest greatest way for criminals and thieves to steal your identity is through email. You should look out for two techniques. The first technique is to mail you spyware that you download onto your computer. This spyware comes as an attachment. The best way to avoid opening a bad attachment is to never open an attachment if you aren’t sure what it is and who sent it to you. The other way to avoid identity theft through email is to never respond to an email if you don’t know the sender.
Email “phishing” is a common tactic of identity thieves. In a “phishing” scam, you receive an email that asks for some personal information. Of course, the thieves don’t just ask you to type in your passwords or account numbers, they are tricky about it. You might receive an email about an item that you purchased (when you never made the purchase); the email will state that you should log on if you have questions about the purchase. Of course, you will have questions, since you never made the purchase, but if you “log on” using a user name and password the bad guys will have your user name and password. They know that most people only use a handful of different names and passwords so they can use the information to start trying to hack into your accounts. There are tons of scams like this. If you ever receive spam email that says you have won money, have an account balance in some account that you haven’t heard of, have been overcharged on some purchase, or have entered a contest, somebody is phishing for your information. Do not respond to these ads.