Your privacy is important to you. You're careful about who you give your personal information to, but are you doing enough? Particularly online, it's easy to miss someone stealing your personal information.
The first thing you want to watch out for is strange email, particularly if it comes from what may appear to be a legitimate company. There are scam emails all around claiming to come from companies such as Citibank, PayPal, AOL and many other companies. These emails ask for your account information, credit card number or other personal information in an attempt to steal from you. Remember; never give out your credit card or other personal information in an email. If you receive such an email, go to the company's website by typing the address in yourself; do not click the link, which will take you to another site entirely. Contact the company only through the website or email addresses you know to be theirs, and ask if they need your information. Odds are they will not.
But privacy invasions can be much more subtle than that. I strongly recommend you download AdAware from http://www.lavasoft.de and run it regularly on your computer. This is a free program, and you will be amazed at the volume it finds. Much of it will be relatively harmless, but if you are getting unusual numbers of popups before, the number may be greatly decreased after AdAware cleans your computer. Be aware that some programs, such as Kazaa and Gator, have been known to have issues with items that AdAware removes. There are ways to put back what AdAware removes, so not all is lost if you have a problem. It also wouldn't hurt to download and run http://www.safer-networking.org, which is another spyware remover, and may catch some things that AdAware will miss, and vice versa.
AdAware will remove a great deal of spyware, but not all, so if you continue to have problems, you will have to take more serious steps. One potentially time consuming trick is to open the Windows Task Manager and see what your computer is running. If you have any doubts about a particular program running in your background, type its full name into Google or other search engine and see what you can find out about it. I had to do this one time with a program that had snuck onto my computer which constantly reset my home page. Getting rid of it was not easy. I had to open a DOS prompt, delete it there, go into the Registry (very risky) and delete it there, then restart.
How did I find out about that program being on my computer? I use a firewall (free, once again) called Zone Alarm. You can get it at http://www.zonelabs.com/. There are more advanced options than the free version, but the free one is quite adequate as a firewall and is considered by many to be one of the best. You then select which programs you want to allow to access the internet from your computer. Obviously, your browser and email will need regular access, and you can give them permanent permission. Most other programs I recommend requiring that they ask permission. This can be tedious sometimes, but that way you will know if something is trying to use them to use the internet. That bit of spyware on my computer triggered Zone Alarm so I was able to get its name easily and delete it from my computer.
Hopefully, these tips will help you keep your privacy as you go about your daily business online. Just use a little common sense and you will have fewer worries about your personal information being stolen from you online.
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