How to avoid identity theft – our best tips

By | July 2, 2011
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Marilyn wants our best tips to help her avoid identity theft
More and more I’m reading stories in the newspaper or watching them on the news about folks getting their identities stolen and how terrible a thing that is. I have bought many things online without any problems, but I’m becoming more and more troubled about buying online due to these stories about identity theft. Just wondered if you have a take on this and if you have any tips to help us avoid getting our identities stolen. Thanks, Marilyn

Our answer
There’s so much misinformation going around on the Web about identity theft it’s hard to know what’s fact and what’s fiction. It’s a fact that it’s a growing problem, but it has very little to do with buying products or services online. It has a lot to do with people not using common sense and a lot to do with legitimate vendors of security products falsely claiming that their security products can protect users from identity theft. Identity theft is a fact and it’s getting worse and it gets harder and harder for ordinary people to ferret out the truth from the scare tactics and outright lies being propagated around the Internet.

Here are some facts and some tips for you:

Anti-virus and anti-spyware don’t protect you from identity theft. They protect you from Trojans, worms, rootkits, bots, viruses, spyware, adware, and malware, but these kinds of things are not the main reason why so many people get their identities stolen. You can’t rely on security applications to protect your identity while online.

The number one way identities are stolen on the net is by people giving their identities to criminals, either by typing in their passwords and user names on bogus sites that are clones of the authentic site, or by clicking links in phishing emails that lead to these bogus sites. Once on these cloned sites they proceed to input all their personal information. The number one way people have their identities stolen on the Internet is not by malicious software but by being tricked into voluntarily giving up personal information.

Your common sense and brain are the two most important software applications you can use to protect yourself from fraud and identity theft on the Internet. Antivirus vendors, anti-spyware vendors and especially firewall vendors would have you believe that their software eliminates the risk of identity theft. These kinds of applications do not eliminate the risk. If anything at all, they may reduce slightly your risk of identity theft, while on the other hand giving you a false sense of security, causing you to let your guard down. No doubt at all that fear-mongering sells and some vendors will pile on the fear to get you buy their products. And we’re not saying you don’t need a good antivirus or antispyware program – you certainly do. But the reasons you need them have little to do with identity theft.

Here’s the best tip we can give you to protect yourself from identity theft while using the Internet – When logging in to your bank account, credit card account or any place that has sensitive information, never go to the site from email; always type the address in your browser to get to the banking, credit card or other financial Web site that you use. After you type the address in your browser’s address bar, double-check it carefully and make sure there are no typos. Many bogus sites are squatting in the background on the Web waiting for you to make a typo. It’s easy to transpose a letter or two when typing in a URL. So, double check what you type before proceeding.

Remember this too: Buying on the Internet with a credit card is no different than buying from a local retailer with a credit card. Either way your credit card transaction is processed and your credit card information stored online. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about purchasing products online. Just use common sense and be sure you know you’re buying from a reputable company. And make sure the site you’re on is the site you’re supposed to be on – not one that merely looks like it.

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