7 Steps to Protect Your Information on Shared Computers

Shared computers are common in libraries, colleges, coffee house cyber cafes, and other places. These simple precautions can help keep your personal information out of the hands of others:

With the popularity of the internet and the widespread usage of personal computers to transact business, it is inevitable that security issues arise. Credit card theft is one potential and widely known problem, but there are plenty of other concerns for internet users. Even web sites that are not used to transact business still contain personal data that needs to be protected and shared computers represent the greatest threat.
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. What can an individual do to keep their personal information as secure as possible when working on a shared computer?
Shared computers are common in libraries, colleges, coffee house cyber cafes, and other places. These simple precautions can help keep your personal information out of the hands of others:
Avoid checking the “Remember My ID” box:
When a web site is visited and an account is accessed, it is common to see a box to click (or receive a message) that offers to save your id on that particular computer. This is a handy option when the computer is your own, but this should never be selected on a shared computer. If selected, the ID will likely remain logged into the site, even after logging off and shutting down.
Avoid Saving Passwords:
Much like the option to “remember my id”, the option to save your password is present in many web sites. This option usually appears when you logon and it can save time with password input. With shared computers, however, this option should not be chosen. A saved password is a gold mine to an identity thief because the ID/password combination is already there.
Always Remember to Sign Out Completely:
Think of this as an addendum to the above two tips. Even if you don’t select options to remember your ID or password, you still must remember to sign out of all web sites. If you fail to sign out and then leave a browser window open, your account will be fully exposed to an identity thief. There will be no protection at all. It’s like handing a thief your logon id and password information on a special invitation.
Get Into the Habit of Changing Passwords Frequently:
Changing passwords is a great away to thwart an attempt to steal your identity and it is a good idea to change passwords for both shared and non- shared pc’s. With shared pc’s, changing passwords serves another useful purpose: It protects against problems caused by spyware and malware. A shared computer that has been infected by spyware or malware can obtain your password and logon id combination because these programs record every key stroke that is made. It is a good idea to change these passwords on non- shared pc’s, of course, for optimal safety.
Delete the Contents of the Browser’s Cache:
Every personal computer utilizes a cache that contains a copy of all the web sites visited. This should be cleared after using a shared computer. Not all shared computers allow this, but each individual user should check the cache before exiting a shared computer to see if clearing is possible. Some libraries and schools do not allow individual access to this area, but it doesn’t hurt to check first, just to see if it is possible.
Don’t Sign Into a Computer and Leave it Unattended:
This is a common occurrence at libraries, schools, and other places where shared personal computers are common. Someone will logon and, in an effort to avoid giving up their computer to someone else, the person will leave the computer logged in while they search for books, visit the restroom, or purchase a snack. While away from the computer, an identity thief could go to the computer and access the personal information exposed in front of him/her. This is why it is best not to take any chances and logoff immediately before leaving a shared computer- even if the absence is only going to be for a few minutes.
Avoid Transactions Involving Secure Financial Data
Always avoid using shared computers for logging into web sites that contain personal financial information. This would include web sites used for banking, purchases (that contain stored credit card information), and other secure data. It is one thing to have an identity thief discover your logon ID and password for a specific blog. Nothing serious can be lost in a site such as that. But it is another thing entirely for an identity thief to gain access to your personal bank account. The first issue is a minor annoyance. The second issue can cause serious financial problems.
Shared computers are commonplace in libraries, workplaces, schools, and other environments and while they offer convenience, they also increase the chances for identity theft. Because shared computers are utilized by a large number of people, it is imperative that individuals take the necessary precautions to prevent theft of personal information. Taking the above steps can help to prevent identity theft before it begins. These methods won’t stop every type of theft every time, but they will certainly place roadblocks to identity theft and send most thieves on their way.

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