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Five Ways to Protect Yourself Against Online Identity Theft

Barely a week goes by without at least one news story about a new online scam. It seems the criminals are always one step ahead, and will try anything to catch out the unwary.

Barely a week goes by without at least one news story about a new online scam. It seems the criminals are always one step ahead, and will try anything to catch out the unwary.

It's not surprising really. Because we now do so much online, from banking to shopping to chatting on forums and social media, the internet gives the criminal fraternity plenty of scope.

In most instances, scammers are trying to steal details about your identity in order to defraud you or other people of hard-earned cash. The key is to be mindful of this when you use the internet and to follow these straight-forward rules to protect yourself and anyone else in your family who uses the internet.

These basic precautions will help ensure you don't become the victim of an online scam.

1. Be aware

Simply knowing that the internet is used by scammers is helpful in avoiding becoming their next victim. It keeps you on your guard, so when you receive suspicious emails or land on a website which looks suspicious, you'll think twice before proceeding further.

2. Invest in security software

You don't have to spend a fortune to get good, basic security software for your computer. The level of protection you need will depend on how you use the internet - PC World have a good blog post to explain how to choose the right security software for your PC.

Install the software that's right for you, and then make sure you keep it up-to-date. You wouldn't leave your home unlocked when you go to work for the day; it's a basic security precaution. Likewise if you are surfing online you need to take this very basic precaution.

3. Don't open suspicious emails

If you receive an email from someone you don't know, and with a subject line which strikes you as irrelevant or odd, don't open it - the email could contain a virus which will damage your computer.

Beware, in particular, of attachments which claim to be statements of account, invoices or confirmation details for bookings and even appointments for your online calendar - if the sender and subject line look suspicious, or don't match your recent transactions, delete it straight away.

The same goes for any email which promises to make you rich overnight. Shame though it is, this is a common technique by scammers. They often request online bank account details, or promise to make you rich in return for sending hard cash through the post - trust nothing from an unknown source, don't fall for it!

4. Take care when revealing personal details online

Restrict the amount of personal information you disclose when online, especially when using social media sites. While you may prefer to be fully open about where you are going and what you are doing, this information can be extremely helpful to scammers.

In a recent test case I was asked by a reporter if I could log into one of her personal accounts. It took me less than 15 minutes to guess her username and password using little more than information which was readily available in the public domain. Whilst it might be easy to remember your password if it includes your son or daughter's birth date, the minute you post 'Happy Birthday' on their timeline then scammers can work this out.

5. Check your bank statements

Banks usually provide excellent security measures but it's well worth getting into the habit of checking your statements to ensure your account is not being accessed by anyone else. Shred any documents containing your personal details.

As banks push more and more of us into paperless billing it's all too easy to ignore the regular monthly email from them encouraging you to check your account. If your bank offers a text alert service then try using this as well as at least this pushes your bank balance to you on a regular basis meaning you can't ignore it.

Despite this all seeming like obvious precautions, someone in the UK will today find that their identity has been stolen. Just make sure it isn't you.

Tony Smith is a director at Insight Investigations