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Stop, Thief! That's My Identity

Learn how to protect your identity online.


Protecting your identity

So what exactly is identity theft? Basically, cyber criminals steal your personal information: Social Security number, credit card number, etc. Then, they can call your credit card company, change the mailing address, and go on a spending spree with the card. They clean out your bank account, open new ones, take out loans, buy cars, and even obtain wireless service.

Identity theft is devastating. Victims can spend years cleaning up the mess, all the while in danger of losing not just their money but also their name and reputation, with jail time being a real possibility. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the number of reported cases of identity theft has grown every year for the past three years, and now numbers more a quarter of a million.

That's where the Internet comes in. It's estimated that a quarter of all cases of identity theft originate on the Internet. More specifically, according to the Internet Fraud Complaint Center, email and web pages dominate the fraud methodology, and the vast majority of victims actually have email contact with the perpetrator.

The problem may actually be worse than imagined. Most governmental investigative agencies and private research organizations estimate that only one in 10 incidents of Internet fraud ever reaches the attention of enforcement or regulatory bodies.

How to avoid getting on the victims' list

First, educate yourself, about the more common scams making the rounds on the Internet. Silly as they sound, they have been amazingly successful. These include:
  • The Nigerian Advance Fee Fraud, also known as the "4-1-9" fraud, a perennial favorite that costs victims the greatest average losses (in excess of $5,000). This scam originated in the form of letters and faxes from a "government official," usually in Nigeria. Now, the method of choice is email
  • The donation-seeking virus, which looks like an executable file attached to an email message. The recipient gets a donation request form to fill out, and it looks just like a legitimate organization's request. It's not: The money goes elsewhere
  • The Social Security Services Scam, a new twist on an old dodge. There's a web site that looks just like it's from the government, but it charges $12 for a form that is actually free. More dangerously, it captures your credit card number. Say goodbye to your credit rating
  • Chain letters. Yes, chain letters. Most of these are probably innocuous, but it's worth noting chain letters involving money or valuable items and promise big returns are illegal. If you start a chain email or letter or send one on, you are breaking the law

Measures to protect yourself, your family and your computer

  1. Don't download files sent by strangers or click on hyperlinks from people you don't know.
  2. Don't store financial information on your laptop. Many smart people have misplaced their laptops. Never use the automatic sign-in feature that saves you from having to enter the password each time.
  3. Use a secure browser with software that encrypts or scrambles information you send over the Internet.
  4. Use AT&T Internet Security Suite - powered by McAfee that helps keep you safe online, protecting you from viruses, spyware and hackers. It also incorporates anti-phishing technology to protect you from online scams.

McAfee, Inc.  3965 Freedom Circle, Santa Clara, CA 95054, 888.847.8766,

McAfee and/or additional marks herein are registered trademarks or trademarks of McAfee, Inc. and/or its affiliates in the US and/or other countries. McAfee Red in connection with security is distinctive of McAfee brand products. All other registered and unregistered trademarks herein are the sole property of their respective owners. (c) 2006 McAfee, Inc. All rights reserved.

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