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Rich Henderson works in IT and writes about tips for computer security, personal finance, and preventing identity theft
Dec 09, 2013
Although it's pretty easy to see through those get-rich-quick identity theft and money laundering scams that pop into your e-mail inbox, your home computer does make you a lot more vulnerable than you'd like to admit. If you give too much personal information away, your identity can be stolen. If a bad storm strikes your neighborhood and creates an electrical surge, all of the documents and photos on your computer could be lost for good. It's important to seriously think about protecting yourself by protecting your home computer, because the stakes are higher than you may think. Here are six tips to get you started.
1. Use Antivirus Software
The need to protect your computer with antivirus software is common knowledge, but saving money on it isn't. The protection offered by free software products such as Avast or AVG is thorough. I use the Internet regularly and am always checking out new websites for my Internet reselling business. I have used AVG in the past and currently use Avast and I've never had a problem.
2. Choose Strong Passwords and Change Them Regularly
Believe it or not, one of the most popular passwords is "123456." Another is "password." Don't make this mistake. Use the last four digits of an old phone number or combine the nickname of a childhood friend with a string of anonymous numbers. Include at least one capital letter as well. Get creative, make sure your passwords are strong, and change them on a regular basis.
3. Exercise Caution When Opening Emails
There's little you can do to prevent getting suspicious emails, but what you do after you receive them is important. Your best bet is simply to never open them, but if you do and you find something untoward (such as a request to click on a link) don't take the bait. Stick with opening emails only from people on your contact list or from websites you interact with regularly. Listen to your gut - if something looks fishy, it probably is.
4. Stay Away From Suspicious Websites
If you see an online shopping deal for 80% off a certain item that looks like it might be a great buy, use caution. If the item ships from overseas or if you Google the website and find something suspicious, definitely stay away. The Internet is rife with this type of scam, and if you fall prey, your credit card may be used for unauthorized purchases.
5. Report Possible Banking Activity Fraud
If you receive an email that looks like it's from your online banking website and it says you need to contact customer service, beware. I recently received one and it turned out to be a phishing expedition. It requested that I call what was not a valid phone number for my bank. A quick Internet search or a look at the back of your card can tell you if anything is awry. If you receive something similar, don't call the number, and report what happened to your financial institution as quickly as possible.
6. Purchase a Surge Protector
Purchasing a surge protector is a simple and low-cost way to protect your computer and all of your personal documents and information. They guard against lightning strikes and other power surges which can permanently damage your PC. Look for one at your local hardware store or home improvement center - they usually cost about $15.
Although the statistics on identity theft are rather scary, most of us have never been victims. Still, if it should happen to you, you're going to spend an average of $631 to get your good name cleared, according to Javelin Research. And don't forget about the time commitment required to restore your credit and name, which is significant. Unfortunately, it can take months to get your life back to normal. Protecting your home computer and staying safe while online is pretty simple, just make sure you never underestimate its importance.
What other tips do you have for making a home PC safe and secure?