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Online Blunders That Threaten Your Identity

We all know how easy it can be for identity thieves to steal your personal information; especially via the computer. To keep your info as safe as possible, here are the most common online blunders you'll want to avoid:

Assuming your security software is protecting you.

Many computer users erroneously think that once they install a security software program their job is done and their computer is protected. Not true. Security software is only fully effective when activated and frequently updated. Those subscription renewal prompts that keep popping up do so for a reason.

Three things to remember with security software:

  • Make sure your software doesn't expire. Renew when prompted.
  • Make sure your software is active when you are online.
  • Make sure you update frequently; generally on a weekly basis.

Failing to do any of these things could leave you wide open.

Accessing an account through email links.

This is one of the most common methods thieves use to access your information. Cyber thieves send out mass emails that appear to come from legitimate organizations such as banks, the government, the IRS, etc. The message will often contain wording to create fear or concern in order to elicit a response from the recipient. Countless unsuspecting consumers, thinking the email is legitimate, click on the link and simply hand over their account numbers, passwords and other sensitive info to fraudsters.

If you ever need to access an account online, always make sure you type the institution's address in the Web browser yourself. And make sure it is the address you have stored in your browser bookmark or have recorded in your own personal records.

And keep in mind that rarely do official organizations, with whom you have an account or personal information, correspond by email.

Clicking on a pop-up ad that says your PC is insecure.

It's never a good idea to click on pop-up ads. Chances are you will be transferred to a spyware site or, worse, have malware (malicious code to retrieve information or to infect your computer with a virus) automatically downloaded onto your computer.

When closing a pop-up, carefully click on the X on the upper left or right corner, not within the window. To avoid pop-ups altogether, enable your browser's pop-up blocker or use a free add-on blocker such as Google Toolbar.

Downloading free software.

Be careful where you download free software. Often these freebies contain spyware. You may have noticed your computer running abnormally slow after installing free programs; that would be due to spyware. You can eliminate most spyware by downloading the free Microsoft Windows Defender and scan your PC. You can still take advantage of free software, just make sure it comes from reputable sites such as SnapFiles.com and Download.com.

Using the same password for all online accounts.

For the sake of ease and convenience, many computer users use the same password for all of their accounts. It's also much easier to remember and keep track of only one password. But, the potential damage is much worse if someone steals your identity. The thief who obtains your one and only password would compromise all of your accounts instead of just one.

Using different passwords doesn't have to be complicated.

You can still use the same basic password for all of your accounts, just vary it slightly for each one.

Assuming online retail sites are secure.

Online shopping requires special precautions. You can't always be sure who you're doing business with. When it comes to online retailers, you must disclose more personal information, such as your address, phone number, email address, etc. Thieves can set up phony sites or sneak in undetected between you and the retail site and obtain your account and personal information.

There are no guarantees, but before entering sensitive information, look for "https" before the sites' address and TRUSTe certification symbols. These generally mean the site is secure (or at least safer).

In addition, use a separate credit card just for your Internet shopping. That way, you can more easily detect if your account has been compromised, close it immediately and dispute the charges with the card issuer. You don't have the same protections with a debit card, and a thief could clean out your whole bank account.

There are no foolproof ways of keeping your information completely safe as thieves seem to be able to eventually find ways around security measures. But, there are ways to make it harder on these fraudsters to access your info and ways to lessen the impact if they do.