Are you a soft target for identity thieves?

. 12/12/07

Beware user of Facebook, MySpace, Orkut & Other Social Networking Sites!!!

The advent of Web 2.0 and user-generated web content has provoked a rise in online identity theft – a big business for professional hackers.

New methods for stealing personal information, such as phishing or key logging, increased dramatically between 2004 and 2006. And hackers are increasingly targeting users of social networks, such as Facebook and MySpace, in sophisticated, customised attacks.

While being completely anonymous online may not be possible, there are steps you can take to protect your digital identity.

Be suspicious

In phishing, criminals often pose as legitimate organisations and use forged emails and fake websites to trick people into providing confidential information, such as bank account or credit card numbers.

If you receive an e-mail from a company, usually a financial institution, requesting information or action, do not click, reply or provide any information. Contact the company directly to verify the validity of the request or to report fraud.

Buyer beware

When shopping online, make sure you’re dealing with a trusted and reputable seller. And when you enter your account information to make a purchase, check that the URL of the page you’re on is the same as the vendor’s.

In a method called spoofing, criminals divert users to websites that pose as legitimate ones to phish for personal information. Some credit card companies, such as Citibank, allow you to generate a virtual account number for online purchases, providing an extra measure of safety.

Don’t flaunt your e-mail address

E-mail harvesters make money by selling e-mail addresses to marketing firms or spammers. They collect addresses from chat rooms, public forums or any website where an e-mail address is posted.

To protect yourself, avoid signing up for free newsletters or other offers from dubious companies. Don’t forward chain letters or reply to spam mail – even to demand that they stop. When you need to post your e-mail address online, use the format “usernameATinternetaddressDOTcom” to bypass harvesters.

Practice information withholding

With the popularity of blogs and social networking sites, users increasingly feel that it’s okay to let it all hang out online. But providing too much information on websites – even when you think they are private – may be a threat to your identity.

Now that Facebook profiles can be Googled, make sure to change your privacy settings so that only “friends” are allowed to search for and view your profiles. Don’t join a large network in which many users can see your profile. Use third-party applications with care – they can access almost all user info, and they’re even able to read information from your friends’ profiles.

Never put your phone number or home address on your profile. For extra security, don’t include your complete birthday, which can be used to access information like bank accounts, or your e-mail. Even your political views and movie tastes can be used by knowledgeable criminals to craft personalised e-mails enticing you to download malicious software or visit a phishing or spoofed site.

Fight spyware

Another way that criminals try to gather personal information is with spyware. These applications are secretly installed on your computer and gather information without your knowledge. Spyware software can track your movements online as well as access your system information. This could take the form of, for example, a keylogger program that logs your keystrokes to steal passwords and other sensitive information.

Check regularly for spyware using anti-spyware programs such as Norton Internet Security or Windows® Vista® Defender. These can also help safely remove spyware or other malware from your computer. Also download Microsoft Windows security updates whenever they are available to ensure your protection tools are current.

Hackers are continually finding clever ways to scam unsuspecting victims. But you can outsmart them by employing these simple safety measures and staying up-to-date on the latest Internet fraud tactics.

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