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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection | article

The Dangers of Spyware: Protecting Against Identity Theft and Fraud

Personal computers continue to be a major focus for identity thieves who view laptops and desktops as gold mines.

While some thieves will resort to identity theft by physically stealing a person's computer, many have more efficient methods of pilfering people's private data. Spyware is a type of malware that is generally installed on a computer in order to secretly extract information. In many cases, these malicious programs are difficult to detect without strong antivirus software.

Spyware can lift your personal and financial information, and it may install additional programs that alter your computer system's functions. For example, some spyware programs will disrupt your normal Web browsing activity, causing you to be redirected to dangerous websites.

With the help of these covert programs, thieves may be able to commit identity theft against you and damage your good credit score.

How Spyware Gets on a Computer
Web users generally end up with spyware on their computers without even knowing it. This is because malicious programs often get bundled with free software — programs you download in order to save money on a full, legitimate version.

Spyware may also wind up on your system if you visit a corrupt or suspicious website. Many thieves will use fake websites to trick users into downloading codecs, add-ons or other types of software, stating that the downloads are necessary in order to see the page load correctly. Although you may think they are downloading a necessary program, you're often just opening your systems to a malicious file.

Tips to Help Protect You from Spyware
Because of the identity theft risks and the subsequent dangers to your credit reports and scores*, it's important to be proactive to defend against spyware. Here are a few helpful tips you can employ to add another layer of fraud protection between yourself and identity thieves.

  • Read the licensing agreement before downloading a program. In many terms and condition documents, free programs will mention if a third-party application is included in the download.
  • Make sure all computer systems have sufficient antivirus protection, which is also regularly updated.
  • Check the Web URLs for any site that sends a prompt requiring a download or the installation of an add-on.
  • Avoid downloading programs from for non-reputable sites.
  • Be cautious about opening emails from unknown senders. Often, these messages will include links to spyware-infested websites.

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*The scores you receive with Identity Guard® are provided for educational purposes to help you understand your credit. Lenders use many different credit scoring systems, and the scores you receive with Identity Guard are not the same scores used by lenders to evaluate your credit.

Credit scores are provided by CreditXpert based on data from the credit reporting bureaus.