Q: I’ve heard that identity theft is on the rise. Is this true and how can I protect myself? I’m on the Internet a lot and I’m really worried about my information getting into the wrong hands.
–C. Walker, Los Angeles
A: Unfortunately, identity theft is one of the fastest-growing crimes in America (see “Protect Your Identity,” Shopsmart, this issue). Thieves typically steal information — credit card numbers, social security numbers, etc. — from the databases of large companies, then tap into the databases of credit reporting agencies to steal your identity. Or they simply hack into your home computer while you surf.
So how can you protect yourself? First, make sure you have solid protection when you surf the Internet. Consider software applications like Norton Internet Security (www.symantec.com) or Zone Alarm Pro (www.zonelabs.com) as your first line of defense against intruders. Second, do not give your name or personal information to anyone online.
Another way thieves get information about victims is via their online résumés. Also, beware of e-mail messages, allegedly from your ISP, telling you to update your account information (such as credit card, bank account, etc.). Check with your ISP first. Never give out your password or account information. Your ISP will never ask.
Also, consider setting up a free e-mail account (Yahoo!, Excite, etc.) for all junk mail. If you play online games, for example, you can use that address rather than your home e-mail address. Like your home account, many of these services also offer a junk mail filter, so you won’t even be tempted to enter the contest to “Win Free Stuff.”
Mail your technology questions to Cyberwise, BLACK ENTERPRISE, 130 Fifth Ave., New York,NY 10011, or send an e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.