The Internet is a wonderful thing. At the touch of a button you can find anything you need to know or buy. You can communicate with just about anybody. It keeps people in touch and saves oodles of time. You don’t have to stand in line at the bank or go to the library to find out if the book you want is available. In fact, you don’t have to go to the library, at all. You don’t even have to fly over to Siberia to talk to your cousin. You can just Skype them. But, now we know that the price for all this convenience is a risk of identity theft.
Although surfing on-line may seem innocent enough, there are tools and applications that allow just about anybody to know a little too much about you, based on a site might have visited even by accident. You might have read a cool blog entry and moved on but, the owner of that blog is now able to see the roof of your house by using something like StatCounter. With ever emerging technology, it’s only a hop skip and a jump until they can link that information to a picture of your face and your favorite flavor of ice cream, and this is before we even start thinking about phishing and on-line hackers.
Fortunately, there are some things that can be done to protect ourselves from identity theft. Luckily, they are not difficult or expensive. Well, unless you don’t do them. Then, they become very expensive.
Choose Passwords Wisely
If you have done any amount of surfing on-line you will know that just about everybody wants you to create a login and password, even if you only ever plan on visiting the site once and don’t need to buy anything. Many people enter something memorable for themselves. This makes it pretty easy to crack. A much better option is selecting a random phrase and throwing in a number or two to make it interesting. It will make it next to impossible to guess.
It doesn’t matter who is asking, don’t share passwords. Identity theft is accomplished by stringing together clues related to who you and your electronic footprint. If they watch your activities long enough they can find the right gap to step through. All it takes is one vendor that is not diligent enough at verifying consumer identity and then go from there.
If you did find yourself in an unavoidable situation and had to provide somebody with your password, be sure to change it at the first opportunity. Also, avoid using the same password multiple times. This adds a layer of complexity for them to muddle through. Even if they access one site they will not be able to access anything else. It is also highly recommended to modify passwords every few months.
Get Rid of Baggage
Sites love to leave cookies on your computer. Tracking cookies do just that. They track your activity and send the information back whomever is monitoring it. Depending on which browser you are using there are slightly different ways to clear browser history, or cache. Figure out how to do it, and get in the habit of doing it after every session. That way even if somebody is tracking your activities, you are limiting how much information they are able to get. However, cleaning the history through the browser will only do so much. There will still be some residual data and any email traffic will not have been affected. To clean up loose ends a software like Privacy Control by Pareto Logic is a good bet.
Protect Against Spyware
There is a difference between viruses and spyware. Spyware is not necessarily bad but, it does spy on you. Viruses actually do something harmful. Having an anti-virus software is not enough. If you notice your computer start dragging after visiting a particular site run a spyware scan. You will likely discover a file or two that needs to be removed. The key to remember is that spyware is developed by programmers and programmers are fallible and not all knowing. In other words, it is a good idea to run more than one just to make that in case the first scan missed something the backup one will catch the threat.
Encrypt Your Keystrokes
Perhaps the biggest gap when it comes to identity theft is that the hackers don’t have to rely on guessing passwords. Instead, they are perfectly happy to sit back and remotely capture all your keystrokes. There will not be one single thing that can be typed without them figuring out exactly which keys were pressed and in which sequence.
Most malware, or harmful software, evolves faster than antivirus software is able to keep up with. “A recent report from the organization for economic co-operation and development (OECD) claims that 59 million (one in four) personal computers in the US are already infected with malware. According to this report, malware has evolved from occasional ‘exploits’ to global multi-million-dollar criminal industry.” 
The best way to deal with this is to encrypt anything and everything you type in such a way that even if the keystrokes are captured it would be impossible to decrypt because the code would be partially stored locally and partially elsewhere. Many financial institutions have partnered with a company called Trusteer who provide a software solution called Raport. The beauty of Raport is that once installed on your machine it allows you to select particular websites to protect. As with anything, Rapport does not support every browser but, they are looking to expand to include others.
At the end of the day, the best way to ensure that your identity has not been stolen is to request annual credit reports. These are mandated to be free by the government because nobody should have to pay to see their own information. In the U.S. this can be done through http://www.ftc.gov/freereports. In Canada, there are three companies who collect credit inforamation (Equifax Canada, Trans Union Canada and Experian Canada). It is important to contact all three because where one can show nothing the other will not be so clean. If all depends on whom a company may have contacted.
Staying on top of not only who may be able to see your private information, as well as ensuring that your identity is still safely yours, can be time consuming and cumbersome. But, it is nothing compared to what is involved in clearing your good name. Taking the proper preventative mesures can make surfing a much better and safer experience.