Friday, January 28, 2005

Who Stole Your Identity?

Study: Most Identity Theft Occurs Offline

Has your identity been stolen? Has someone made unauthorized charges on your credit cards? Written a check on your account? Given your name to the police instead of their own? Did you know the person? Yeah, I thought so.

Many identity thefts are committed by family and friends, and I use the word friends loosely under the circumstances. It was your lazy brother, your son or daughter who refuses to grow up and be responsible for their own expenses, maybe it was even your mother who stole your credit card or opened an account using your name. Other times the identity thief found your lost wallet or maybe actively stole it from you.

What is far less likely to have happened is that someone stole your identity online. According to a study by the Better Business Bureau and Javelin Research, only 12 percent of identity theft was computer crime. And do you know how half of that happened? Spyware that came along when you downloaded screensavers, amusing cursors etc. onto your computer or from just clicking the highlighted button on any pop up warning without knowing where it came from or what it will do.

Dear readers, please educate yourselves on protecting your data. Know where your credit cards and checkbook are at all times. Don't lend them to anyone. If you find someone close to you has stolen from you, including stealing your identity, call the police and prosecute their little fannies! These are not the kind of people you want in your life, so don't be afraid of alienating them.

Protect your computer and the data on it. Never click the button on a warning box that you don't understand. If it says something weird or wants you to click it before you can see a website, click the red "X" in the corner to close it instead. Whenever you download anything onto your computer, especially any free things like screensavers, cursors, weather or time applications that offer to put information on your desktop, etc., make sure you trust the source and read, read and read the Terms and Conditions. Don't just blindly agree and click OK because it is written in legalese. That's where you'll find out that you are agreeing to have other products downloaded.

Download and run a free anti-spyware catcher such as Spybot Search and Destroy or Ad-Aware from a reputable source. Alternatively, or for a second form of protection, download the Yahoo toolbar and use the pop up blocker and the Anti-Spy tool it offers. These tools will alert you to spyware on your computer and give you the option to remove it automatically. You need to run these regularly to ensure that your computer remains free of spyware.

You also need anti-virus protection that automatically downloads updates and scans your computer. My personal choice is Norton Anti-Virus, but any reputable product is better than none. Grisoft Freeweb: AVG Free Edition is a free anti-virus program that comes highly recommended by Elizabeth Boston, who offers an excellent, free newsletter at her website, The Computer Lady - Tips & Troubleshooting For Computer Problems. Norton automatically downloads updates on my computer at least once a week, more if there is an urgent threat. I have also scheduled an automatic scan once per week. If it finds a problem, it quarantines the virus so it cannot do any damage.

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