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5 Tips for Protecting Your Identity

Protect Yourself Online

Virus protection software is an absolute necessity on any computer (even on Macs), and you should schedule regular, automatic virus scans. Avoid file-sharing programs, since viruses can be embedded in downloaded material.

Q: In the next six months, I plan to:

Start banking online.

Start investing online.

Research financial information online.

I already do some or all of these things.

I'm not ready to bank or invest online just yet.

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But these days, virus protection is not enough to safeguard the information stored on your computer. You should also have up-to-date anti-spyware and a firewall—make sure this software is set up to notify you of needed patches. Likewise, your browser should be kept current. Many people delay updating their browser because they fear the way it looks or operates will change, but it's critical to have up-to-date encryption capabilities.

A spam blocker set to high will keep your mailbox free of most annoying junk mail, as well as potentially dangerous attachments. You should never open an attachment you aren't expecting—even from a friend—without checking with the sender, since some viruses can invade your address book and proliferate by using stolen addresses.

Your passwords should comprise a mixture of numbers, symbols, and upper and lowercase letters. You may think that your mother's maiden name will make your password hard to crack, but that information—and lots of other "personal" information—can be obtained through government records. It's up to you to create unique passwords and commit them to memory. Don't write them down unless you lock the information away.

When you shop online, look for the Trust-e symbol or the Better Business Bureau online seal, which indicate that the seller has been independently audited and found trustworthy. Avoid shopping on any website that doesn't offer a privacy policy—you need to know how your personal information will be handled. Finally, don't make online credit card charges unless they are handled through a secure site or in an encrypted mode. You'll know it's secure if the page you are on has a URL beginning with https instead of http.



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