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Seven Steps to Protect Yourself From Identity Theft on Shared Computers

Jul 28, 2008
Personal computers are widespread and shared computers are a popular means for internet access. These "public" computers exist in libraries, colleges, coffee house cyber cafes, and other places. They are popular because they offer quick, convenient access to the world wide web. Unfortunately, they are also very popular with identity thieves because they present an easy means to access the personal information of others. Just recently, a young twenty- two year old former Drexel University student pleaded guilty to identity theft and she openly admitted stealing more than $116,000 worth of money through various schemes.

Credit cards, banks, and even online sites that are not used to transact business still contain personal data that needs to be protected and this problem is compounded further with shared computers. Are there ways to protect against this type of theft when using a shared computer? Let's take a look:

Protecting Your Identity:

Shared computers are common in many places, like libraries, schools, hotels, coffee house cyber cafes, etc. Remembering these simple precautions can help keep your personal information your own:

Never select the "Remember My ID" box:

Many web sites offer the option to remember your personal id on that particular computer. This offers added convenience, but this option should never be selected on a shared computer. If an ID is remembered, it will be stored on the shared computer and will likely remain logged into the web site, offering a thief easy access your personal data.

Never Save Passwords:

Similar to the option to "remember my id", many web sites offer to save your password. This option is usually presented when you logon and it is intended as a convenience measure. With shared computers, however, passwords should never be saved. If an identity thief logs onto a site with a saved password, there is no doubt what will happen next. The thief will already have your password and will logon immediately to seek your personal information.

Don't Forget to Sign Out Completely:

Signing out is as important as not selecting the options to remember your personal ID and password. You should always remember to sign out of all web sites. If you remain signed in, your account will be openly accessible to identity thieves. It's like placing your logon id and password on a silver platter and turning over to an identity thief.

Begin the Habit of Changing Passwords Frequently:

Changing passwords is a good idea whether a computer is shared or not, but it is especially important on a shared computer for two important reasons: spyware and malware. If a shared computer becomes infected by spyware or malware, these programs will quickly obtain your password and logon id combination because spyware and malware record every key stroke made on the infected computer. To avoid this problem, change passwords frequently using a non- shared pc.

Erase the Contents of the Browser's Cache:

Personal computers contain copies of all the web sites visited. This cache needs to be cleared, if possible, after using a shared computer. Some libraries, colleges, and other places do not permit individual access to this area, but it doesn't hurt to check upon logging off, just to see if it is possible.

Don't Sign Into a Shared Computer and Walk Away:

This sounds simple enough, but the temptation to logon to a shared computer at a library, school, hotel, or cyber café and walk away for a quick break or other purpose is always present. Giving into this temptation might satisfy a hunger pang or the urge for a drink, but while away from the computer, an identity thief could quickly walk over to the abandoned pc and access whatever personal information is exposed in front of him/her. To be completely safe, get into the habit of logging off immediately before taking a break when you use a shared computer. Even a short break of a few minutes is enough time for a determined thief to obtain personal information.

Avoid Transactions That Involve Secure Financial Data

Shared computers should always be avoided when logging into web sites that contain any type of personal financial data. This includes sites used for banking, purchases, and other sites that contain secured data stored in the site. Web sites like blogs do not usually contain the sensitive information that an identity thief wants and are thus less important. However, a site like a bank, brokerage service, or online store contains extensive amounts of personal information including access to financial data. You don't ever want to compromise something as important as your money.

Shared computers are popular and they can be found in libraries, schools, hotels, and other places. They offer convenience, and this is the primary reason for their popularity. However, with this added convenience comes the added chance for identity theft. A single shared computer can easily be accessed by hundreds of people each day, making it critical that individuals take the necessary precautions to prevent theft of personal information. Taking some simple steps like the ones listed above can help prevent identity theft before it begins. These steps won't prevent one- hundred percent of the instances of identity theft, but they will greatly reduce the chances for falling victim to this type of online crime.
About the Author
Lisa Carey is a contributing author for
Identity Theft Secrets: prevention and protection
. You can get tips on Identity theft protection, software, and monitoring your credit as well as learn more about the secrets used by identity thieves at the Identity Theft Secrets blog.
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