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Identity Theft An Alternate Approach

11/01/2004 - Most of us think of identity theft as someone stealing our wallet or purse and then compromising the information they find inside. We may lock the doors and windows of the house to keep out burglars but what about other kinds of thieves?

Many of us keep all sorts of personal information on our computers including social security numbers, financial records, tax returns, birth dates, bank account numbers. We feel confident that the information is inviolable because the computer is locked up inside our house. But thieves may be running a straw into the back of your PC and draining out all the goodies.

If you're connected to the Internet, the Federal Trade Commission recommends several steps you need to take to make sure the identity thieves don't come in the backdoor of your personal computer.

1.Make sure your computer is protected with anti-virus software and update that virus protection software at least weekly.

2.Make sure you're on the alert for security patches and repairs to your computer's operating system. Download and install them whenever they become available.

3.If you're connected to the Internet, use a firewall program, period. Even if you just use a dial up connection use a firewall. Estimates are that your computer can be taken over in as little as forty minutes with even a dial up connection.

4.Periodically scan for and delete spyware. These are annoying little programs that can infiltrate your computer sending personal information to remote sites without your knowledge.

5.Don't download files sent to you by strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don't know.

6.If transmitting sensitive information over the Internet, use a secure browser — software that encrypts or scrambles information you send — to guard the security of your online transactions. Look for the little "lock" icon in the bottom corner of the browser. And make sure you know who you're doing business with.

7.Don't send confidential information over e-mail.

8.Before you dispose of a computer, delete personal information. Use a "wipe" utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive and make the files unrecoverable. For more information, see Clearing Information From Your Computer's Hard Drive (www.hq.nasa.gov/office/oig/hq/harddrive.pdf) from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). It's not a bad idea to beat the hard drive with a hammer as a final deterrent.

9.Maintain a healthy skepticism of activities you perform over the Internet.

10.Stay current on new developments in identity theft.

You've done all this - are you bullet proof? Probably not, but at least you've put on the chain mail.

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