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Consumer Protection Division

Safe Computing

Beware of Spyware, Learn the Clues!

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Understanding the ups and downs of the Internet and online transactions is one of the best ways to start practicing "safe computing". Armed with a good understanding of common threats and a few practical tips to help you and your information stay secure, you can click on your heart's content.

Tip #1: Safeguard Personal Information

Don't fall for e-mail scams asking for your Social Security Number, bank account number, passwords, or any other private information. Any kind of personal information should be protected, but most commonly, identity thieves are in search of:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Date of birth
  • Social Security number
  • Driver's license number
  • Mother's maiden name
  • Account numbers
  • Card expiration dates
  • Internet passwords
  • Personal identification numbers
  • User IDs for online account access
  • Security codes from the back of credit and debit cards

Tip #2: Use Good Passwords

Some systems can be accessed remotely by scammers who want to gather and misuse users' personal login and password information. If you have a weak password, your information is vulnerable to dictionary attacks, rapid automated guessing of common passwords. This is of special concern on systems where you've set yourself to log in automatically and may be unaware of a totally blank administrative password.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

  • Never share your password.
    Even someone you trust could misuse your information. Keep this information exclusively private.
  • Never write down your password.
    If you lose the piece your paper your password is written on, it could end up in the hands of identity thieves.
  • Change your password frequently.
    The longer that you have used your password, the more likely it is that someone else will manage to figure it out. Just how frequently you should change your password depends on how frequently you use it and what you are protecting with it. For example, you may wish to change a password used to give access to financial information more frequently.
  • Never store a password in a program.
    Many e-mails and Web programs will offer to store your password for you so that you don't need to type it in each time you want to use it. But this convenience makes it easy for thieves to recover your password if they have access to your computer. It is also possible for some computer viruses to recover your password from such stores and e-mail them to random people or post them publicly on the Internet.

Tip #3: Be Spyware Savvy:

Spyware is software loaded on your computer without your consent, and often without your knowledge. The goal is to monitor or control your computer use—you might receive a large number of pop-up ads, be directed to Web sites you don't want to view, or lose the use of your computer's systems. It might take a long time to open or save files, or you may receive strange error messages. Sophisticated spyware programs may even record your keystrokes to steal your passwords or other sensitive personal information, leaving you vulnerable to ID theft or other fraud.

To lower your risk of spyware infection:

  • Set your browser security high enough to detect unauthorized downloads.
    Update your operating system and Web browser software – many offer free software "patches" to close holes in the system that spyware might exploit.
  • Use anti-virus and anti-spyware software and a firewall, and update them frequently.
    A firewall blocks unauthorized access to your computer and will alert you if spyware on your computer is sending information out. Anti-spyware software should be set to scan on a regular basis—at least once a week—and every time you start your computer.
  • Download free software only from sites you know and trust.
    Free software is often bundled with unsolicited spyware. Custom toolbars, games, or peer-to-peer sharing software are common offenders.
  • Don't click on links inside pop-up windows.
    Always close pop-ups by clicking on the "X" icon in the title bar. Or better yet, install reputable pop-up blocking software.
  • Don't click on links that claim to offer anti-spyware software.
    Ironically, links that claim to offer anti-spyware software often actually provide spyware and trick you into downloading it yourself. Take the time to read the end-user license agreement before downloading any software. If the license agreement is too hard to find or understand, it may not be a safe download.

Other Safe Computing Resources:

Here are some helpful links to learn more about how you can protect yourself from identity theft, and be an informed user of e-commerce and a wise e-bidder. The Justice Department also has some helpful tips.

The Federal Communications Commission's Consumer Information Bureau (CIB) offers "one-stop-shopping" for all consumer issues—whether it's to get more information or to lodge a complaint.

If you believe you have been the victim of identity theft, you can send a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

You can also file a complaint regarding any e-crime at the Internet Crime Complaint Center or click here if you believe the online transactions involved a foreign country. The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).

The Consumer Protection Division of the Office of the Indiana Attorney General works to safeguard the rights of Indiana citizens every day. If you have questions or complaints regarding safe computing or other consumer issues, contact the Consumer Protection Division at 800.382.5516.