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Tips to Ensure Your Identity Stays Your Own

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It feels like nearly once a day we write a story about all the things that can go wrong on devices that use the Internet -- everything from a smartphone tracking keystrokes to hooking up to public charging stations to having your iPhone hacked into through Siri. But these are often complicated hacks and may not be happening to you as often as spam and threats to your identity.

According to the Identity Theft Assistance group, identity theft fell in 2010 by 28 percent, but Internet consumer fraud rose 63 percent. So seeing as how it's International Fraud Awareness Week, here are a few tips from Lifehacker on how to protect yourself in the most basic of ways. While some of this may seem like common sense, it still may be time brush up protection.

Think Twice About What Sites You Give Your Info -- Even to Those That Seem to Be Reputable

Lifehacker's first suggestion is to learn what a "phishing" attempt is. Phishing is simply a malicious site that looks legitimate trying to get your information -- usernames, passwords, personal info, etc. The Federal Trade Commission provides this as a prime example:

“We suspect an unauthorized transaction on your account. To ensure that your account is not compromised, please click the link below and confirm your identity.”

“During our regular verification of accounts, we couldn’t verify your information. Please click here to update and verify your information.”

It's pretty common sense, but Lifehacker says to just provide as little information as possible and " never give out information—even if the requester is legit—unless you understand why they need the information and what they'll do with it." Putting in a call to organizations should be able to confirm if the request is reputable or not.

For more anti-phishing info, check out FTC's more in depth information.

Up-to-Date Security Software Is a Must

Don't go a day without it: make sure you keep your computer security programs active. If your security software is up-to-date, be sure not to fall for messages that look like they're from a computer security provider as a virus alert, which are known as scareware. BBC reported a couple years ago that in just one year, 40 million people had fallen victim to scareware, subjecting their computer to viruses:

Scareware sellers use pop-up adverts deliberately designed to look legitimate, for example, using the same typefaces as Microsoft and other well-known software providers.

They appear, often when the user is switching between websites, and falsely warn that a computer's security has been compromised.

PC World notes that another clue a pop-up message is scareware is if it's difficult to click out of. Watch what you click on and never pay anything for virus protection from pop-ups saying you've been infected.

Below are a few examples of what scareware could look like.

Do You Look for HTTPS in your URLs?

Look up to where The Blaze URL is in this article, see how it says HTTP? HTTPS simply shows that your site is secure. You should see HTTPS on all sites that involve banking or other personal information. Lifehacker has more on how to enable HTTPS for various sites that may not naturally have it:

You can use the previously mentioned HTTPS Everywhere extension for Firefox to force hundreds of sites to HTTPS, enable HTTPS on Facebook, do the same at Twitter, and check to make sure to look for the lock or the green box next to the URL in your browser's address bar to make sure the version of the site you're on is secure. If it's not, try the site address with https:// in front of it to see if it works.

Google even has an HTTPS version that you can enable so your searches can be secure.

As annoying as it is, have different passwords and change them occasionally

Many sites force you to make your passwords stronger than in years past, requiring things like numbers, symbols and capital letters in addition to a required number of characters. But it can get so tempting with complicated passwords to use the same one for easy remembering. Lifehacker has some tips there:

Use a service like KeepassLastPass or another similar password manager to create, keep, and manage multiple strong passwords for all of the sites and services you use on the Internet.

The Federal Communications Commission has more tips in a guide to help you avoid getting caught in spams and scams. And FTC has more in a guide on protecting yourself from identify theft and here's some more info to help you avoid succumbing to Internet fraud.

If you think you've been a victim of Internet fraud, you can file a complaint at the Internet Crime Complaint Center. The center also puts out scam alerts to which you can subscribe.

This story has been updated since its original posting.

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