Your computer can be a goldmine of personal information to an identity thief.

Here’s how you can safeguard your computer and the personal information it stores:

  • Update your virus protection software regularly. Computer viruses can have damaging effects, including introducing program code that causes your computer to send out files or other stored information.
  • Look for security repairs and patches you can download from your operating system’s Web site. These patches can close security holes that allow intruders into your computer.
  • Don’t download files or click on hyperlinks from people you do not know. Opening a file could expose your system to a computer virus or program that could hijack your modem.
  • Use a firewall, especially if you have a high-speed or “always on” connection to the Internet. The firewall allows you to limit uninvited access to your computer. Without a firewall, it is easier for hackers to take over your computer and access sensitive information.
  • Use a secure browser to guard the safety of your online transactions. When you’re submitting information, look for the “lock” icon on the status bar. This is an indicator that you’re information is secure during transmission.
  • Try not to store financial information on your notebook computer unless absolutely necessary. If you do so, use a strong password – a combination of letters (upper and lower case), numbers, and symbols.
  • Avoid using an automatic log-in feature that saves your username and password; and always log off when you’re finished. If your notebook computer gets stolen, then the thief will have a hard time accessing sensitive information.
  • Delete any personal information stored on your computer before you dispose of it. Use a “wipe” utility program, which overwrites the entire hard drive and makes the files unrecoverable.
  • Read Web site privacy policies. They should answer questions about the access to and accuracy, security, and control of personal information the site collects, as well as how sensitive information will be used, and whether it will be provided to third parties.

Information provided by brochure from the Federal Trade Commission.