Tips on Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft

McAfee, Inc

You’re careful about checking your doors and windows before you leave the house or go to bed at night. You store your personal papers in a secure location. But did you know that, depending on how you use your personal computer, an identity thief may not need to set foot on your property to steal your personal information?

Now that virtually everything from shopping to banking to filing your taxes can be done with just a few clicks of the mouse, more of your personal, and personally identifiable, information is stored on your home computer. This could be anything from birth dates to tax returns. The tips below can help you keep your computer, and the personal information it stores, safe.

Virus Protection

Virus protection software should be updated regularly, and currently, most virus software lets you schedule automatic updates and system scans, allowing you to set it and forget it. Ideally, virus protection software should be set to automatically update each week. Patches for your operating system and other software programs should be installed to protect against intrusions and infections that can lead to your files and passwords being compromised. Windows operating systems also can be set to automatically check for patches and download them to your computer.

Unknown Files

Do not open files, click on hyperlinks or download programs from people you don’t know. And use caution when encountering one of the above from people you do know. Be careful about using file-sharing programs. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or a program known as “spyware,” which could capture your passwords or any other information as you type it into your keyboard. If you feel you must open a file, run a virus scan on it first.

Firewalls

Use a firewall program, especially if you use a high-speed Internet connection like cable, DSL or FIOS that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day. The firewall program will allow you to stop uninvited access to your computer. Without it, hackers can take over your computer and access the personal information stored on it or use it to commit other crimes.

Secure Browser Software

Use a secure browser – software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet – to guard your online transactions. Be sure your browser has the most up-to-date encryption capabilities by using the latest version available from the manufacturer. You also can download some browsers for free over the Internet. When submitting information, look for the “lock” icon on the browser’s status bar to be sure your information is secure during transmission.

Laptops

Try not to store financial information on your laptop unless absolutely necessary. If you do, use a strong password (see our “Create a Secure Password” page for tips) to lock it tight. Don’t use an automatic log-in feature that saves your user name and password and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it’s harder for a thief to access your personal information.

Computer Disposals

Delete all of your personal information from your computer before disposing of it. Deleting files using the keyboard or mouse commands or reformatting your hard drive may not be enough because the files may stay on the computer’s hard drive, where they may be retrieved easily. Use a “wipe” utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.

Privacy Policies

Look for website privacy policies. They should answer questions about maintaining accuracy, access, security, and control of personal information collected by the site, how the information will be used, and whether it will be provided to third parties. If you don’t see a privacy policy or if you can’t understand it consider doing business elsewhere.

You can read more about protecting yourself from Identity Theft on FTC.gov.

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