You've heard about it on TV or read about it in magazines - people having their identities stolen online. This can lead to thousands of dollars in debt or worse. There is good news, however. Most online stores now have very secure sites, and there are more and more ways of protecting your personal information both online and offline.
First, install programs to protect your computer from hackers and viruses. These include a good firewall, a virus scanner, and an adware/spyware scanner. Windows does include a free firewall program with it, so if you don't want to download any other program, make certain the Windows firewall is up and running. When it comes to virus and spyware programs, you can either visit your local computer store for recommendations or download a free program online. Note that many free virus scanners are actually trial programs that expire, so be sure to read all the information so you don't end up searching for another program or paying for a full version.
Once you have these programs installed on your computer, you'll need to remember to run the virus scanner and spyware scanner on a regular basis (once a month is probably good). Your firewall will run by itself, although you will interact with it frequently at first as it learns which sites and programs are OK and which ones should be blocked.
Another tip on protecting your information is to be a smart online shopper. Generally, sites like Amazon.com, eBay, and online stores associated with trusted companies like Wal-Mart and Barnes & Noble are very secure, and you shouldn't worry about entering any information on them. However, if a site you haven't heard of before asks for your credit card, you should be cautious. Likewise, be wary of any site that doesn't look like it was created by a professional - often, these sites are scams.
Along the same lines, watch for email hoaxes. Remember, no company is ever going to email you asking for your credit card number, password, or other personal information. The links in these emails almost always go to fake websites. Remember, the general rule of thumb is that if it looks at all suspicious, don't enter any personal information.
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