Internet Security: Protecting Your Personal Info From Cyber-Criminals

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How would you feel if you knew that the time you spend online chatting, instant messaging, and surfing could give someone access to your personal information? No big deal? How about this: after gathering enough information about you, it’s possible for the wrong kind of person to use your name, address, and date of birth to become a cyber version of YOU.

Hard to believe? According to the Ontario Ministry of Consumer and Business Services, online identity theft-stealing or hijacking someone’s personal information to commit fraud-has become an increasingly popular crime in Canada as a result of the very technology we love: the Internet.

The Internet makes it easy for us to apply for credit cards, make online purchases, and do research for school projects. At the same time, the Internet gives thieves access to our personal information and a cloak of invisibility: they don’t have to be there in person to make a fraudulent purchase or to apply for credit in your name. Also, Internet criminals can be far more anonymous because if they use computers at the library or their local airport, they’re virtually untraceable.

Using the Internet not only makes it easier for thieves to steal your ID, it also makes it more difficult for law enforcement agencies to trace them when they do. Online identity theft is difficult to track because it can take months for victims to realize that their identity has been stolen. By the time victims discover the crime and report it, the thief is long gone.

Internet Computers

As long as your computer is connected to the Internet, it’s not safe unless it has firewall or anti-virus software protection. While there’s no single way to prevent this crime from occurring, here are steps you can take to decrease your risk:

  • Install antivirus and personal firewall protection that blocks intruders from unlawfully breaking into your PC or Mac. Good protection software typically have a firewall that allows computers to go into stealth mode, so hackers can’t detect you when you’re online.
  • Choose passwords that aren’t easy to guess. Users should create passwords that contain numbers as well as letters and avoid using common words or names that could easily be discovered by an identity thief.
  • Don’t use the same password for different sites, and don’t store your passwords on your computer.
  • Never give away any personal information about yourself in chatrooms. Don’t include your telephone number or home address as part of your signature on emails.
  • Use only one credit card to shop online and keep the credit limit low. Shop at familiar, reputable websites.
  • Scan all incoming email attachments you plan to open with anti-virus software. Do this even if you recognize and trust the sender; it’s always better to err on the side of safety. If you’re unsure about an attachment, delete it. Especially if it’s from a source you don’t recognize.
  • Download with caution and avoid files you can’t be sure are safe. This includes freeware, screensavers, games, and any other executable program – any files with an “.exe” or “.com” extension, such as “coolgame.exe.” Be sure to scan each program before running it.

Besides the tips outlined above, if you’re shopping online fairly frequently, check your credit report on an annual basis. This is one of the best ways to find out if someone is using your information without your knowledge. Contact a credit bureau like Equifax to obtain a copy of your credit report and identify any errors and request corrections right away. Visit Equifax Canada at for more information.

If you suspect you’ve been a victim of online identity theft, act quickly to prevent further impersonation. Remember that the scam artist may have gained your personal information online, but that it can be used in a variety of ways once it’s within the criminal’s control.

The single best step you can take to prevent thieves from using the Internet to steal your identity is to invest in good-quality firewall and anti-virus protection software. Quality protection and internet security software provides comprehensive protection against viruses, malware, hackers, and privacy threats. It’s a must-have for anyone who uses the Internet to shop, bank, surf, or communicate.

Feel better now?

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