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Tips for safe passwords, accounts

By Pamila Yip – Dallas Morning News

As you’re shopping for your favorite people this holiday season, make sure you don’t allow thieves to benefit at your expense.

More than any other time of the year, it’s critical that you protect your personal data from being taken hostage.

“It’s shocking how easy it is for identity thieves to steal massive amounts of credit card numbers, Social Security numbers, and online passwords, but it is happening every day,” said Todd Feinman, chief executive of Identity Finder, which offers software to help consumers protect their personal data.

So pay close attention to your bank and credit card accounts during the holidays.

Here are tips to protect yourself:

Don’t give in to “scareware,” which purports to warn you that your computer is infected with a virus. It can flash warnings before you and create a sense of urgency to act.

“The Internet has never been more dangerous,” said the Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry association focused on eliminating identity theft and fraud. “Rogue anti-malware programs are proliferating at an unprecedented rate.”

Update your anti-virus software regularly and rely on it to alert you to a virus.

“You should absolutely ignore any advertising that tells you that you have a virus,” Feinman said. “There’s no reason to believe you have a virus just because a Web page tells you that.”

So don’t click on the flashing alert that warns that your computer is infected.

“When you click on it, you’re putting the actual virus on your computer,” Feinman said.

Don’t shop on public computers, because they can have key loggers that record your information as you type it.

“Try to avoid public terminals for anything that’s personal,” Feinman said.

Create complex passwords. Use upper and lower case with numbers.

Use at least seven characters and don’t choose a word from a dictionary.

“Passwords can be guessed very quickly by hacker programs,” Feinman said.

When shopping on a Web site, make sure you look for “https” in the address bar or a closed padlock in your Web browser or near the bottom right corner.

Those indicate that your information is protected. If the lock is open, assume the site isn’t secure.

“It’s really difficult for somebody to fake that and the lock symbol,” said James Van Dyke, president and founder of Javelin Strategy & Research, which studies financial services topics. “The browser companies have really worked hard to build in safeguards.”

Be careful about which ATM you use. “For real-world shopping, people should avoid the ATMs that aren’t bank-branded,” said Van Dyke. “Those are so easy to run a scam on.”

One of the most common forms of ATM theft is the use of a “skimmer,” a device mounted where you insert your card that looks like it’s part of the ATM.

It can read and record account information stored electronically on the magnetic stripe of the debit card while a wireless camera is positioned to record your PIN.

Once crooks have that information, “they essentially have a duplicate copy of your ATM card and they drain your account,” Van Dyke said.

“It’s harder to skim a bank-branded ATM because the premises are always more closely monitored,” he said. “They will also use more sophisticated ATM technologies.”

In any case, examine the ATM machine closely to ensure that there aren’t strange devices attached to it.

When you use a debit card in a store watch for “shoulder surfers” – people who look over your shoulder when you enter your PIN. Shield your personal space and don’t be afraid to tell them to back off.

Be extra vigilant during the holidays. The last thing you need is to have someone rob you of your identity and hard-earned money

RMCN Credit Services
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