Identity theft is on the rise. With nearly 10 million people affected last year and more than 28 million people since 2003, it is equally alarming that almost as many cases go undetected or unreported, according to a recent survey.
While 12 percent of identity fraud cases last year occurred because the victim was active online, more than 45 percent of ID theft victims were unable to show how fraudsters obtained their information.
"Identity theft is a growing, and largely hidden, online threat,” warns David A. Milman, founder and CEO of RESCUECOM, the national computer repair and support company. "Almost every time we service a customer for the first time, the computer is full of viruses, adware, spyware or has incomplete windows security updates; any of these could result in identity theft. So if you're not completely vigilant, the evil-doers can and will find you."
From RESCUECOM come the following ID theft Do's and Don'ts. These simple steps are critical in reducing your chance of being an online victim, according to the company:
—Get a copy of your credit report, but save it to an external disk or other device
—Make sure you have the latest anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your computer
—Ensure you update your computer when Microsoft tells you it has new updates available and make sure your Windows updates are configured properly
—Password protect all your sensitive files
—Be cautious when using a Wi-Fi Hot Spot. Make sure you are on a secure network (usually paid or requiring a password)
—Respond to any emails from your bank. If you think the email is legitimate, call your bank's customer service number
–Send any personal information over a wireless network; avoid paying bills online at a Hot Spot
—Perform any financial transactions in a Hot Spot. Unless you know the website has an SSL-encrypted connection (look for the "lock icon" at the bottom right hand of the screen or the letter 's' after http), any financial transaction is a huge risk
—Let your anti-virus software expire. An unprotected computer can be infected with a virus or spyware within about 15 seconds of being online
—Instant message or talk to anyone online whom you've not met before. Often, social sites and instant messengers can be prime grounds for fraudsters and identity thieves posing as others.