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Methods of Online Identity Theft - Phishing
One of the most important things that you can keep in mind is that hacking and identity theft in reality are completely divorced from the Hollywood myths. It's almost never some "master hacker" ripping apart your life. It's usually just some guy sending out lots of phishing emails or someone monitoring malware that they released into the wild.
Phishing is an entirely different subject. If you'd like to learn about the anti-phishing software that can protect you against phishing scams, read the linked article for a more complete and focused review. In general, you will just need to be good at spotting phishing scams. If you are already security conscious and don't give out your personal information freely, then you are already halfway there.
Laptop security software can protect your identity by preventing hackers and identity thieves from using malware to steal your personal information. There seems to be two major means for stealing information.
A normal keylogger is fairly effective and used to be a quite popular means of theft. It will just log every keystroke that you make and send reports to the hacker. For the average person, this would probably grab email passwords and potentially login information for credit cards and banking, if you handle that online. If you do any online shopping, then it will also grab credit cards. Note that a number of websites have started offering online number pads so that you can "type-in" your credit card number without actually using your keys. While some ingenious spyware are able to get around this, it's usually a decent habit to protect your information.
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Methods of Online Identity Theft - Malware
The other method would involve using general malware, such as trojans or standard viruses, to look for saved password information on your computer. It's not that likely that you'll have credit card numbers or other financial information will be easily gained through this method, although it is still possible for an inventive hacker to get your information.
Note that there are many options available for stealing your online identity. For example, if you use the same password for all your online activities, they will be able to get onto any of your accounts. A surprising number of people make this mistake, so hackers will usually check any accounts you may have to see if they already have the key. Just having access to your email account can give them substantial power. They can control the alerts you see, and can just reset the passwords on any other accounts to get the temporary passwords.
As you can see, you really want to keep your computer safe. It doesn't take much information for someone to steal your identity online and cause a lot of damage in a short period of time.
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How Laptop Security Software Can Keep Your Information Safe
By keeping your computer or laptop safe from malware, you'll be taking a very important step to keeping your information and identity safe. If you scan your computer well and then set up some active protection, you'll be in good shape. Malwarebytes is a great scanner that is incredibly simple.
We have a lot of articles on free antivirus software. Honestly, if you have any questions about a name brand antivirus program, just search for the name on our website to find a good and up-to-date review. I personally would recommend AVG Free, Avast! and Avira. These are all fairly good programs that provide active protection and are generally easy to use and update. Of course, you should only use one to avoid conflicts between them. For this particular threat, I'd also highly recommend Spybot: Search & Destroy. It has a few unique features and should play fairly nice with other scanners. In particular, it can "immunize" your browsers against known exploits and use its TeaTimer application to monitor the registry for any changes. This can potentially get a bit annoying, but if you have TeaTimer running, sneaky malware will not be able to creep into the registry and make itself much harder to remove.
All of these programs should just require a simple installation and restart. Once they're set up, you should be protected from the majority of threats online.
Image Credit - Wikipedia Commons - http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Symian_virus.png