Protect yourself from identity theft by protecting your computer

Having a triple-threat combination of protective software on your computer greatly reduces your chances of identity theft, according to new research. Know the steps you can take to help protect your personal information online.

Having a triple-threat combination of protective software on your computer greatly reduces your chances of identity theft, according to a study led by a Michigan State University criminologist.

Identity theft, when someone obtains some piece of your sensitive information to commit fraud or theft, often happens without the victim's knowledge, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

In a survey of more than 600 people, the researchers, lead by Thomas Holt, an associate professor of criminal justice at MSU,  found that computer users who were running antivirus, anti-adware and anti-spyware software were 50 percent less likely to have their credit card information stolen.

 “When you think about antivirus software protecting you, you might think about it keeping your files safe and not losing your music and photos,” Holt said. “The important thing we’re finding here is that it’s not just about protecting your files, but also about protecting you economically – about reducing your chances of being a victim of identity theft.” 

According to the study, about 15 percent of respondents said they had experienced computer-related identity theft in the past year. Males were more likely to be victims, Holt said.

Users who did such things as downloading pirated music or pornographic images, which often have hidden malware attached to them, were more likely to be victims of identity theft, according to the study.

But all users, no matter their level of online activity should still take the time to ensure they have the "triple threat" software protections: antivirus, anti-spyware and anti-adware.

Antiivirus software detects and removes malicious software, including such things as viruses, computer worms, trojan horses and more. Anti-spyware and anti-adware programs, meanwhile, are designed to block or remove software that either self-installs without the user’s knowledge or is installed by the user and enables information to be gathered covertly about a person’s Internet use, passwords and other personal information.

Nearly two out of three identity theft victims do not know the source of crime, according to an Identity Theft Assistance Center (ITAC) survey. “Your best bet is to treat your personal information as you do your personal safety – like buckling your seat belt. Keep data in your home and workplace in a secure location, keep your anti-virus software, browser and operating system updated, and monitor your accounts online for unusual activity,” said ITAC President Anne Wallace on the organization's website.

According to the FTC, more ways to protect against identity theft include:

  • Keep an eye on your purse or wallet
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card
  • Don’t share your personal information with random people you don’t know
  • Read the statements from your bank and credit accounts and look for unusual charges or suspicious activity.  Report any problems to your bank and creditors right away
  • Tear up or shred your charge receipts, checks and bank statements, expired charge cards, and any other documents with personal information before you put them in the trash

A few preventative actions can save Michigan residents the time and out-of-pocket costs of fighting identity theft. 

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