Top 5 Ways to Protect your Identity On-line

(KHNL) - Over the past 5 years over 27 million Americans have the been the victim of identity theft yet on average, 49% of them did not know how their information was obtained. One contributing factor may be the number of people who now use the Internet and how it is used. Using these 5 simple tips may help protect your identity on-line.

1. Minimize personal information exchange
Surveys, questionnaires, registration forms, rewards cards and so on are often designed to harvest data about you, data that is sometimes bought and sold for marketing purposes. Unfortunately this means that these databases are sometime stolen or their security is compromised.
For example, a couple of years ago I received a letter from my University to tell me that some electronic student records had been compromised and that mine may have been in the batch. The University has a very secure network to safeguard this information and yet it was stolen. I would expect data harvested by private means to be even more vulnerable.
Suggestion: Only give out minimal information about yourself. If you have a post office box, use it as your address and make sure that your family does the same.

2. Watch what you post on social networking sites
In order to steal your identity, all someone needs are three things:
        1) Your name
        2) Your date of birth
        3) Your social security number
With only a cursory glance at a Facebook profile, often two of these three items are already present. Since these sites are so popular, it's more important than ever to make sure you monitor what information you make public about yourself and which activities you want to share with the world. The same is especially true for your kids so make sure they do the same.   

3. Protect Yourself from Keyboard Loggers and Spyware
No, these aren't tiny men who harvest keyboards from the forest. It's malicious software that once installed on your computer, will record your mouse movements and keystrokes and send them to criminals in some far off country. 
Although it sounds harmless it really is not. Think about all of the activities you do on-line. Checking email, checking your bank account, portfolio, retirement account - all of those websites, user names and passwords can be sent to the criminal.
Although I have only seen this infection on one machine since joining the Geek Squad, quite a bit of damage was done. The customer's emails had all disappeared, their 401K was changed and money was wired out of their bank account. 
To avoid this problem yourself, start by using antivirus/antispyware software. Next, avoid visiting suspicious websites or using illegal file sharing software.   

4. Careful of Phishing Emails
A few weeks back we did a Tech Tuesday segment on phishing emails and how to protect yourself from them. Simply put, phishing is a deliberate attempt to access your information and steal either money or your identity by using false emails, phone calls, text messages and even impersonators. 
If you get a lot of junk email then there's a good chance some of it consists of phishing emails. Products like Norton 360 and Kaspersky Internet Security can filter some of these out. However, the best weapon is your common sense. If the email doesn't look right or you feel suspicious then delete the message. It's as simple as that.
5. Diversify Your Passwords
It may sound silly but how many people do you know who write down their password on a post-it note and stick it onto their monitor? I see this all the time. Why bother with a password at all? 
However, most of us have a couple of email accounts, do on-line banking and so on and often use the same password for all of them. Do not do this! If any one of these accounts are compromised then the criminal has access to all of them.
Suggestion: use at least three levels of passwords: low, medium and high and assign passwords for your on-line accounts accordingly. So for example, your Facebook and Twitter accounts could use a low-level password, a medium level one for email accounts and for on-line banking, a high-level one. It's more secure yet easy to remember this way.

Hopefully these suggestions have inspired you to make some changes with your on-line habits. Stay awake. Stay alert.