Monday, March 31, 2008

20 tips to protect yourself

You can take steps to protect yourself from identity fraud:

*Keep your confidential information private. Your bank or credit card company won't call or e-mail to ask for your account information. They already have it.

*Keep an inventory of everything in your wallet and your PDA, including account numbers. Don't keep your Social Security card or any card with your Social Security number, such as an insurance card, in your wallet.

*Stop getting banking and credit card information in the mail. (See "Go paperless for safer banking.")

*Monitor your bank and credit card transactions for unauthorized use. Crooks with your account numbers usually start small to see if you'll notice.

*Keep your vehicle registration and insurance forms in a sealed envelope in your glove box and lock it and your car when at home or away.

*If you conduct business online, use your own computer. A public computer is less secure, as is wireless Internet.

*Look for suspicious devices and don't let anyone stand nearby when you use an ATM. Take your card and receipt with you. Keep your PIN in your head, not in your wallet.

*Don't store credit card numbers and other financial information on your cell phone. (See "Is your cell phone spilling your secrets?")

*If you're job hunting using resume Web sites, don't apply unless the employer has a verifiable address.

Protect your computer from vulnerability:

*Keep system and browser software up to date and set to the highest security level you can tolerate. Install anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection, and keep them up to date as well. When possible use hardware firewalls, often available through your broadband connection router.

*If you use wireless Internet access, make sure that you get help from someone who understands wireless security when you set up your access point or router.

*Back up your data and store it way from your computer.

*Don't open e-mails from strangers. Malware can be hidden in embedded attachments and graphics files.

*Don't open attachments unless you know who sent them and what they contain. Never open executable attachments. Configure Windows so that the file extensions of known file types are not hidden.

*Don't click on pop-ups. Configure Windows or your Web browser to block them.

*Don't provide your credit card number online unless you are making a purchase from a Web site you trust. Reputable sites will always direct you to a secure page with an URL starting with https:// whenever you actually make purchases or are asked to provide confidential information.

*Use strong passwords: at least six characters, including at least one symbol and number, and no reference to your name or other personal information. Use a different password for every site that requires one, and change passwords regularly.

*Never send a user name, password or other confidential information via e-mail.

*Consider turning off your computer when you're not using it or at least putting it in standby mode.

*Don't keep passwords, tax returns or other financial information on your hard drive.

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