Internet access is like a window — you can see out but other people can also see in. If your information isn’t protected, your computer may be accessible to the criminals and hooligans of the online underworld. Since an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, here are the top 10 ways to protect your identity online:
1. Get Antivirus and Antispyware Protection
Install reputable antivirus and antispyware software. Such software is easily accessible and your first line of defense against would-be attackers. PC Tools Internet Security offers powerful antispyware, antivirus and spam protection in one comprehensive package.
2. Install a Firewall
It just sounds cool, doesn’t it? Installing a firewall can prevent external attempts to connect to your computer. Without one, hackers could see information kept on your hard drive. Install a firewall, such as the one at http://www.pctools.com/firewall/, and keep it updated. Which brings us to our next tip…
3. Update Your Computer
Keep your antivirus, antispyware and firewall software updated. You might have to restart your computer, but it’s better than restarting your financial history.
4. Be Careful When Filling Out Forms
When registering online, give only the information required by the site – don’t fill in all the boxes just because they’re there. Look for additional boxes that might be checked or disclaimers on the registration. Some sites use “the fine print” to sign you up for mailing lists, or sell your information.
5. Monitor Your Statements
Take a few minutes to review your bank and credit card statements each month. It’s a good way to make sure some hacker isn’t using your card to buy an Eritrean goat farm or sixty pairs of alligator skin boots (they’re completely out of style anyway). Credit card companies have programs to deal with fraudulent usage but you have to notice it first.
6. Check Baby, Check Baby, 1, 2, 3
Order your credit report at least twice a year. It’s quick, easy, and an important indicator of your financial security.
7. Shop Safely
When giving personal information or a credit card number online, look for a lock symbol in your browser’s status bar and for “https” at the beginning of the URL in the address bar. While not a 100% guarantee of security, these sites employ at least some security measures to safeguard your information.
8. No Phishing!
Don’t respond to emails requesting personal information and avoid clicking through to links in any such emails. For example, if you receive an email from your bank stating that your account is overdrawn, do not follow links provided in the email. Call the bank from a number you verify from the bank’s website – NOT the number from the email.
9. Share Carefully
When using social networking sites, be sure to set your own privacy settings – don’t use the default settings. And as much as everyone would like to know exactly what you had for breakfast at your new house next to that one café with the really good scones, try not to overshare. The information could be used against you.
10. Check the .Exe
Check the source AND the content of each file you download. Don’t download an executable file (one that ends with “.exe”) unless you’re certain it’s safe. Executable files can harbor viruses or Trojans. Your antivirus software will probably warn you, but it helps to be vigilant.
Here’s to safe and happy surfing!