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7 Online Blunders That Threaten Your Identity

privacy, online, computers, identity theft, IDThere are many ways to invite identity theft, and certain online blunders can render your computer an inoperable mess. Here are the top 7 most common mistakes you don't want to make:

1. Assuming Your Security Software Is Protecting You

Security software is fully effective only when activated and frequently updated. Renew the subscription when the software prompts you, and make sure your security software is active when you're online, and that it has been updated within the past week or so.

2. Accessing an Account Through an Email Link

No matter how official an e-mail message looks, trying to access a financial account by clicking on embedded Web links is risky. If the e-mail message is fraudulent, a cybercriminal could use the account number and password you enter to steal your identity or empty your bank account. Access your online accounts only by using your existing browser bookmark or typing in the institution's Web address.

I was actually nailed on this one when I was in the middle of selling something on eBay and clicked on a phishing scam that I thought was related to an active auction in progress, which one of my assistants had done for me.

If you suspect that an e-mail is a phishing attempt, forward it to [email protected] and [email protected].

3. Using a Single Password for All Online Accounts

Nine percent of home Internet users designate a single password for all their accounts. That practice lets someone who gets your password and steals your identity easily access all your accounts. Using different passwords need not be burdensome. Use slight variations on one password.

4. Downloading Free Software

You couldn't resist that neat, free utility. Now your computer runs slower than ever. That's because spyware was probably packaged with the freebies. Download freeware only from reputable sites such as and Eliminate most spyware by downloading the free Microsoft Windows Defender and scan your PC.

5. Thinking Your Mac Shields You from All Risks

Mac users fall prey to phishing scams at about the same rate as Windows users, yet far fewer of them protect themselves with an anti-phishing toolbar. To make matters worse, the browser of choice for most Mac users, Apple's Safari, has no phishing protection. Until Apple beefs up Safari, use a browser with phishing protection, such as the latest version of Firefox or Opera. Also try a free anti-phishing toolbar such as McAfee Site Advisor or FirePhish.

6. Clicking on a Pop-up Ad That Says Your PC Is Insecure

Fifteen percent of respondents to our survey who saw pop-up ads clicked on them. But that's never a good idea. Even if you know such pop-ups are phonies, they're still dangerous. It's easy to click inside the ad by mistake and be transferred to a spyware site or, worse, have malware automatically downloaded onto your computer. When closing a pop-up, carefully click on the X on the upper left or right corner, not within the window. To avoid pop-ups altogether, enable your browser's pop-up blocker or use a free add-on blocker such as Google Toolbar.

7. Shopping Online the Same Way You Do in Stores

Online shopping requires special precautions because the risks are different than in a walk-in store: You can't always be sure who you're doing business with. You must disclose more personal information, such as your address, to the online retailer. Thieves can sneak in undetected between you and the retail site. Use a separate credit card just for your Internet shopping. Don't use a debit card. Sites that display "https" before their address when you're entering sensitive information and those displaying certification symbols from TRUSTe and other organizations are usually safe, but there are no guarantees.

How to Regain Your Privacy Online

In addition to these seven valuable tips, I highly recommend checking out Regain Your Privacy Online. It's a great resource where you can learn more about how to protect your personal information against free distribution.

For example, did you know your personal information is listed in at least 49 FREE online directories that are accessible to anyone? With nothing more than your name, someone with less than good intentions can access these directories and compile an astounding amount of information about you, your family, your home, your work, your social network and more, making stealing your identity, planning insurance fraud, planning a robbery, or worse, easier than ever before. has done all the leg work and heavy lifting to make it easier for you to take back control of your private information and protect your privacy.

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