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August 11, 2008 18:01 - Avoid These Top Seven Online Pitfalls

Not taking seriously our online privacy and security can cost us dearly. The implications have been highlighted by a study undertaken by Consumer Reports, reported in its September, 2008 issue.

The report identifies seven of the most common blunders which can ruin our computers or invite identity theft and offers advice on what we can do to avoid a Web disaster...
  1. Assuming security software is fully effective -- it only is when activated and frequently updated. Most software will notify you when your subscription is due.
  2. Accessing an account through an e-mail link. Clicking on an embedded Web links is risky because they can give cybercriminals your account access and lead to theft of your identity or loss of bank account funds. Access an online account only by using your existing browser bookmark or typing in the institutionÂ’s Web address.
  3. Using a single password for all online accounts. Nine per cent of respondents to the survey do and this provides easy access for someone looking to steal a consumer's identity. A secure password uses variations for each account and using a combination of at least eight letters, numbers and symbols.
  4. Downloading free software. Although we are tempted by not spending cash, free downloads often come with spyware -- slows your computer and gives away all of your personal information. To avoid, download freeware from reputable sites like SnapFiles.com and Download.com.
  5. Thinking your Mac shields you from all risks. Mac users get trapped by phishing scams just as much as Windows users. Apple's Safari browser has no phishing protection, so users should try Firefox or Opera.
  6. Clicking on a pop-up ad that says your PC is insecure. Fifteen per cent of respondents click on a pop-up ad. This can allow malicious malware to be loaded to your PC or re-direct you to a malicious site. When you get a pop up, click the 'X' button at the top right of the window. Never close by using buttons within the window, which will set off the malware. You can get rid of pop-ups altogether by enabling your browser's pop-up blocker or use a free add-on blocker such as Google Toolbar.
  7. Shopping online the same way you do in stores. Online shopping requires us to divulge more of our personal details than if we purchase in-store. Sites that display "https" before their address when youÂ’re entering sensitive information and those displaying certification symbols from TRUSTe and other organizations are usually safe, but there are no guarantees. Use a separate credit card for Internet purchases and don't use a debit card. Alternatively, get a virtual account number from your credit-card company, which is good for only one purchase for a specific vendor.

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