Tuesday, July 18, 2006

How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

How To Protect Yourself From Identity Theft

Identity Theft is a real and growing problem. So what is identity theft exactly? Basically, identity theft is when someone uses your social security number, your bank credit card number, your driver's license number or any other form of identity without your knowledge or permission.

Many people have fallen victim to identity theft through many different means. Some of these ways are easily preventable due to their common sense obvious nature. Other ways identities are stolen are more dubious and discreet.

So, the question becomes, how can you protect yourself from someone stealing your identity?

To protect yourself from identity theft, the first thing you should do when considering how to divulge information about your identity to someone you do not know or may not trust is to use your common sense. Never make one-sided assumptions or take things for granted where your identity is concerned.

Credit card company statements and bank statements you receive in the mail contain your account information including your account number. Any of these items need to be shredded with an inexpensive shredder you can buy at any office supply store. Do not throw credit card statements, old credit cards or bank statements, etc. in the trash as that presents an easy way for someone going through the trash to steal your account information and use it as if they were you.

Another thing you can do to protect yourself against credit card fraud and unauthorized credit card usage is to sign the back of your card as "Check ID". If a store clerk asks to see your card, he or she will check the signature on the back and compare it with some other form of ID you have. This safeguard will not work where a purchase can be automatically completed (like at a gas pump).

When you are buying items at a store or withdrawing money from a bank or ATM machine using your ATM debit card always protect the visibility of your PIN number as you punch it in.

Do not carry your social security card with your number on it in your wallet. Keep your social security card or anything with your social security number on it in a safe place where no one has access to it but you. If you must dispose of anything that has your social security number on it, do not forget to shred it.

When online, do not open files sent to you by strangers or even files that are from someone you know but were not expecting to receive any from them. Do not click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you do not know either. Opening a computer file from an unknown source could expose your system to a computer virus, a Trojan or spyware. These types of programs could be ones that could log your keystroke information containing your credit card numbers, passwords or other sensitive information as you type it in.

If you use Ebay or Paypal, read the company website policies concerning how they handle communication to you about your account information. Never trust an email you may receive out of nowhere from Ebay or Paypal asking you to "update your account information" as this is more than likely a ploy to steal that information and use it illegally.

Use a firewall program and a router while you are online if you have high speed internet that leaves your computer connected to the internet 24/7. The router and the firewall program both make it much more difficult for a hacker to see your computer's actual IP address which means that you have a better chance of safely sending and receiving sensitive information over the internet. Windows XP operating system SP2 has a built in firewall which you should make sure is enabled in your settings.

When you are shopping online, always use a secure browser and shop from a web site that offers secure transactions when shopping online. Most browsers in use today have this protection feature including the popular Internet Explorer and Mozilla Firefox browsers. Secure website shopping carts you visit will show up as "https://thestoresdomain.com" in the web browser address bar.

Practice keeping your computer clean from spyware or Trojan programs that log keystroke information by using virus protection software and spyware monitoring and removal software. These programs should be updated regularly, and updates for you're operating system and other software programs should be installed regularly to protect against the compromise of your computer files and password information. Ideally, virus protection software should be set to update itself frequently. The Windows XP operating system will update itself automatically if you enable this feature, which you should.

The consequences of identity theft once thieves have your information can be quite severe and range from going on a spending spree to taking out auto loans in your name. For these reasons and others, it is a good idea to monitor your credit report periodically. A credit report can be obtained from Trans Union Corp. New laws have made it easy for you to get at least one free credit report that you can use to see if accounts have been opened in your name.

5 Simple ways to keep your computer secure and virus free

5 Simple ways to keep your computer secure and virus free

These simple tips will help you stay virus and spyware free, even if you're connected to the internet 24 hours a day.

1. Protect yourself

Good protection on the Internet these days consists of 3 components: anti-virus software, anti-spyware software and a firewall.

Good virus protection doesn't need to cost you a fortune. You can get excellent free anti-virus software at www.grisoft.com. Even the professional version of their software is very affordable.

For spyware protection, go to www.lavasoft.de and download Ad-Aware SE Personal, also free. This will zap the most common spyware and adware found on the Internet.

As for a firewall, Windows XP ships with a decent enough firewall. Just make sure it is always enabled. Alternatively you can visit a site like www.download.com and search for Zone Alarm, which has an excellent free version.

The most important thing to keep in mind is that you need to keep your anti-virus software up to date. An anti-virus program that uses definitions that are months old is just about useless.

Update your anti-virus and anti-spyware software at least once a week.

2. Stop opening every attachment you receive.

Most of the devastating worms and viruses of recent times were distributed via email. These viruses feed on the curiosity and also the ignorance of a huge number of email users. People will get an email from fakename@weirdsuspiciousdomain and they'll just open whatever file is attached to it.

If you don't know the sender, don't open the attachment - just delete it. It doesn't matter if the subject promises you'll see Britney Spears dancing nude on the kitchen table, just delete it.

If the email is from someone you know, always scan any attachments first before downloading or opening them.

If every email user in the world followed these simple guidelines the distribution of viruses via email will grind to a halt.

3. Stay clear of pornographic and illegal software sites

If you want to pick up viruses and spyware quickly, visit some pornographic web sites. One wrong click on a subtle little pop-up or security warning window (which you'll run into often on these type of sites) and you'll have infested yourself with trojan horses, spyware, dialers and other unfavorable software that could leave your computer wide open to further attacks.

The same goes for web sites distributing software, serial codes and cracks illegally (warez).

Simply put - keep out of the dark side of the web and the odds of keeping your computer clean shifts decidedly in your favor.

4. Watch out what you download

Spyware is embedded in a lot of software on the Internet - especially those related to ripping, converting and playing music and videos. That free MP3 player or DVD Ripper you just downloaded may have installed a bunch of harmful spyware without you even knowing about it.

5. Keep yourself informed

Major anti-virus software developers like Symantec and Grisoft updates their sites regularly with the latest virus alerts. Visit these sites frequently to keep yourself aware of what threats are doing the rounds and how to avoid them.

Using these simple and software I have kept my computer virus-free for the past 3 years. It's not rocket science. Just stay alert, use some common sense and you too can stay bug free while still enjoying your Internet experience.