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The Resource Center Online Security Issues & Protection | article

Don’t Joke Around When It Comes to Identity Theft

Are you planning an April Fool's Day prank? If so, there are a lot of ways you can trick your friends into falling for a joke you've set up in honor of the unofficial holiday. However, always be aware of the potential retaliation that could come your way. After all, you can't get away with making someone else look foolish without allowing others to have a laugh at your expense.

The targets of these April Fool's pranks may vary, from your family members to your coworkers to your closest friends — and as a result, the nature of each prank you pull off is tailored to the amount of communication and distance between you and your victim. While you may be able to fool your spouse when they wake up in the morning or the person a desk over from you on their way out of the office, often, harmless phone or email pranks are the only avenues available to you if you want to spread some of the laughter to someone far away. But beware.

It's not funny if an email ruins your identity
There are a lot of e-greetings and cyber messages that are available online that you can peruse that work as the perfect April Fool's prank. In fact, you can probably expect more than a few such jokes in your inbox if you frequently exchange messages with friends and loved ones through email. Not all of these pranks are friendly jabs, however, as some of these messages may actually be viruses disguised as emails from a relative or acquaintance.

Often, identity thieves will create viruses that get distributed through email. They work by accessing a person's online address book and inbox after the victim has opened up a message that contains the bug. Once the virus has been unleashed on your inbox, it will send out the same message to all of the addresses you have saved on your account.

What you keep on your computer could work against you
The virus won't stop there, because once it affects your computer, it can then scour your hard drive for any information that could help a hacker commit identity theft. You may not think so, but your computer could contain a lot of sensitive knowledge — from your date of birth, to your Social Security or bank account number. You don't really want to risk exposing that kind of information about yourself.

To help stop a thief from accessing your funds — and potentially destroying your credit report — you should avoid opening up emails from any addresses that you don't recognize. Since you can't even guarantee that an address you do recognize is secure when it comes to April Fool's Day messages, make sure all of your anti-virus software is completely up to date. Enlist in an identity monitoring service while you're at it so you can have some insight into certain activities, such as unauthorized purchases, that are taking place in your name.