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Page: Identity Protection

Identity Protection

Your Name, Rank and Social Security Number Wanted

So, you think you're well protected online and no one can steal your personal information? This kind of thing happens to others and simply can't happen to you? Well, unless you have taken steps to protect your identity and are always dilligent while online, think again...

Identity theft is a growing crime

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the U.S. in particular, as well as other countires around the world. The U.S. Secret Service has estimated that consumers nationwide lose $745 million to identity theft each year. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, the average victim spends 607 hours and averages $1,000 just to clear their credit records.

Identity thieves employ a variety of methods to gain access to your personal information. They may get information from businesses or other institutions by stealing it; by bribing an employee who has access to records; hacking into records; or conning information out of employees. Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may use it to commit a fraud or theft in your name.

How can you tell if you have become a victim of identity theft? Some signs include unexplained charges or withdrawals from your financial accounts; bills or other mail stop arriving (the thief may have submitted a change of address); a credit application is denied for no apparent reason, or debt collectors begin calling about merchandise or services you didn’t buy.

How to protect yourself against identity theft

Your computer can be a goldmine of personal information to an identity thief. To protect yourself and your computer against identity theft consider:

  1. Update your antivirus program - Updating virus protection software frequently. Consider setting your virus protection software to update automatically. It's well worth spending $20 or so dollars for a peace of mind.  
  2. Download your operating system updates - The Windows XP operating system also can be set to check for patches automatically and download them to your computer. Or you can select to be notified about them and then choose when you want to download such updates.  
  3. Do not open unknown files - Not opening files sent to you by strangers via email or otherwise, clicking on hyperlinks, or downloading programs from people or companies you don’t know.  
  4. Use firewall - Using a firewall program, especially if you use a high speed Internet connection like cable, satellite or DSL that leaves your computer connected to the Internet 24 hours a day.  
  5. Deal only with secure sites - Providing your personal or financial information through an organization’s secured website only. While not fool proof, a lock icon on the browser’s status bar or a URL for a website that begins "https:" (the "s" stands for secure), may provide additional security.  
  6. Do not store personal info on your computer - Not storing your financial information on your laptop, unless absolutely necessary.  
  7. Delete important personal information - Deleting all the personal information stored on a computer before disposing of it. A wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive is recommended.  
  8. Check before you buy - Checking with an anti-fraud education organization such as CardCops. Card Cops runs a web site designed to help consumers determine whether their credit card numbers may have been stolen. They monitor Internet "chat rooms" where identity thieves illicitly trade and sell stolen credit card numbers. CardCops turns the information over to law enforcement authorities, but also allows consumers to access their database to see whether individual card numbers may have been stolen. In the first two months of operation, the site identified more than 100,000 stolen credit cards.  

As with any crime, you can not completely control whether you will become a victim, but you can take steps to minimize your risk by remaining diligent and by minimizing outside access to your personal information.

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