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A Few Ounces of Protection—Protecting Yourself Online from Identity Theft

Merely because you are vulnerable to identity theft on your computer is no reason to avoid using your computer to access the Internet; however, some good protective measures can go a long way toward protecting yourself while you are online:

  1. Install good security software to protect your computer from viruses, spyware, and other malware. There are many legitimate companies that offer free security software, but make sure that you are dealing with a reputable company and consider paying for a product that will provide you with greater protection.
  2. Keep your security software up-to-date. Automatic updates are best.
  3. Encrypt the data on your laptop. Microsoft’s BitLocker will do the job free; however, it is available only with Windows 7. TrueCrypt is another free encryption service that will protect the data on your computer from prying eyes in public.
  4. Use strong, difficult-to-guess passwords.
  5. Never turn off your firewall. Firewalls maintain a protective barrier between your computer and the Internet.
  6. The price of computer security is eternal vigilance along with a healthy dose of mistrust. Never download anything from a source that you do not absolutely trust, and even if you trust the source—don’t. First communicate with the source to make sure that the material you are being asked to download or link to is actually from that person or company that you trust, and even then, remember that they could have been compromised and could be unintentionally sending you corrupted material.
  7. Regularly get, and review for accuracy and signs of identity theft, a copy of your credit report. You are entitled by law to get a free copy of your credit report annually from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus, Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. The most efficient way to do this is to request a copy in sequence from one of them every four months. This way you stay more current in your review of your credit report, at no cost. It is also important to remember that there are a number of services that will lead you to think that you are ordering a free credit report from them, but in the fine print you will find that you have signed up for a continuing costly service that you might not need or want. The only place to get your truly free credit report is www.annualcreditreport.com or by phone at 877-322-8228.
  8. If you are in the military and are deployed overseas, you can request that an active duty alert be put on your credit report that will not permit credit to be issued without your specific approval for a year. The active duty alert can be extended after the first year for additional years. You can also designate a personal representative here in the states to give approval on your behalf if you are applying for credit while overseas but can’t be reached.
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