Identity theft is a growing concern in our society. Identity thieves target personal information, such as Social Security numbers, passwords, or credit card details. They use the information to obtain credit or other benefits using the victim’s name.
The proliferation of computers and mobile devices has increased the risk of identity theft. People do more and more tasks online, such as banking or shopping, and many websites collect personal information. It’s important to be aware of the potential for identity theft and to make sure your computer is secure.
Top Five Tips for Securing Your Identity
Here are several steps you can take to keep your computer safer and reduce your risk of identity theft.
1. Use anti-virus and anti-spyware programs. A recent survey by Michigan State University found that users running such software were fifty percent less likely to have had their credit card information stolen. Not only do these programs lower the risk of identity theft, they also keep the computer more secure overall. Anti-virus software detects and removes computer viruses. An anti-spyware program will uncover software that collects personal data, such as browsing history, login information and passwords.
2. Secure your computer with a firewall. A firewall allows you to access the Internet while blocking unauthorized access to your computer. Windows comes with a built-in firewall. Make sure it’s active before you connect to the Internet. You can also install a third-party firewall for additional protection.
3. Encrypt all sensitive files. Encryption scrambles files so that they cannot be read without a password or key. There are several encryption software programs on the market. The extra security provided by an encryption program is well worth the cost.
4. Use secure passwords and change them frequently. Avoid including personal information, such as Social Security numbers or birthdays, in passwords. Strong passwords contain a blend of uppercase and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers. They should be a minimum of eight characters long. Passwords should be changed every three to six months. This can seem inconvenient, but the added security is worth the effort.
5. Be alert for phishing scams. Phishing is an attempt to gather user names, credit card information, passwords, and other personal data by posing as a legitimate entity in an online communication (typically an e-mail). A phishing message usually looks like an e-mail from a bank, an online store, a social network, or another popular online site. It typically directs users to enter personal information at a fraudulent website that often looks very much like the real site. If you receive an e-mail requesting personal information, contact the company it claims to have originated from and verify that the message is legitimate. Never click on a hyperlink in a suspicious message. Many such links lead to sites infected with viruses or other malware.
Following these tips will lower your risk of identity theft and keep your PC more secure. By staying aware of the risks and taking steps to improve your security online, you can lower the chances of having your identity stolen.
About the Guest Author
Daniel Young holds a Masters Degree in Information Technology and blogs frequently about information security and other IT related issues. One of his most recent contributions can be found at The Stupidest Things You’re Doing to Put Your Identity at Risk.