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Top five tips to avoid digital identity theft

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On the Internet, you can be anyone you want to be. Unfortunately, some people want to be you, especially if they can get a credit card in your name. The Canadian Council of Better Business Bureaus says identity theft costs the Canadian economy $2.5 billion a year and the FBI calls it America's fastest growing crime, mostly because highly organized international cybergangs can exploit stolen identities within minutes of acquisition and before authorities have started to react.

In recognition of Fraud-Prevention Month, here are top five ways to protect yourself against digital identity theft. Also, don't miss Top five tips on safe online shopping and top five ways to avoid e-mail fraud.

1) Shred it

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Always shred your bank statement and other personal information such as tax returns. Do not put them in the garbage at home or at the office where garbage pickers lurk. If they can piece together enough of a picture of you, they can steal your identity without stepping off the sidewalk.

2) Be suspicious

If you find an unsolicited credit card in your mail box, cut it up and call the company immediately. Phishers often apply for credit cards with stolen identities. Sometimes they'll steal the incoming cards right out of your mailbox and you're none the wiser until the bills roll in. Sometimes you get to the mail before they do. If a bank or credit card company issues you a card on spec, call them and tell them to take your name off their mailing list for such activities. Its an invitation to fraud.

3) Never volunteer

There's no such thing as a bank inspector. They don't call or e-mail you to verify how much you have in your account. Never give personal information such as your date of birth, bank account, credit card, driver's license, SIN or health card number over the phone or by e-mail unless you initiated the call. (And don't just call the number someone gives you - verify!) Phishers have been known to call or e-mail posing as collection agents and when you challenge them, ask for personal information "to verify we've got the right file."

4) Be Vigilant

Keep aware of where and when and how much you spend on your credit cards and debit cards. Set up online banking and go online a couple of times a week to check your purchases. Leaving it a month or two months means you may not remember what you've spent or miss some of the transactions billed to your account. Remember, sometimes criminals don't have to steal your identity to get to your credit card. They can "skim" it by tapping into devices you use to make transactions at a store, gas station or restaurant. Banks are trying to fight that sort of fraud by issuing chip cards, which have a computer chip on them and have cut fraud in Europe by 80 per cent.

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5) PC Check up

If your computer starts acting strangely or slows down dramatically get it checked out immediately. It may have been infected with a type of software - more precisely malware - called spyware. The malicious programs track which websites you visit and record what you type before sending all of that information back the spyware's creator. If you're not sure how to run a virus or spyware scan, have a friend do it for you. Failing that, take your PC into your local Future Shop or Best Buy. While you're at it, make sure your computer has all the latest anti-virus, and spyware detection tools, the latest browser and security software patches.

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