Your wallet is missing. Thousands of dollars have been charged to your credit cards, your checking account is empty, and loans you never took out appear on your credit report. What happened? You are a victim of identity theft -- an increasingly common and inventive crime.

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. It may also involve computer fraud, mail fraud or wire fraud.

This month, I want to share with you steps you can take to help protect your information when banking over the internet.

Protecting consumers' information is always a top priority, so significant resources have been invested in security. However, there a few things you can do to keep your online banking secure.

* Be sure to keep banking apps updated, change your password regularly (make it challenging, with a mix of six or more characters, numbers and symbols (@$*-_=.!~).

* Update virus protection software periodically, and after every new virus alert is announced.

* Do not download files or open hyperlinks sent from people you don't know.

* Use a firewall program to prevent your computer from being accessible to hackers.

* Use a secure browser to guard the security of your online transactions. Enter personal and financial information only when there is a "lock" icon on the browser's status bar and look for the URL to read "https" versus "http."

* Don't use an automatic login feature. Always log off when you're finished.


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* Before disposing of a computer, delete personal information using a utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.

By taking a few precautions, you can keep your information safe.

LINDA LAGOY

vice president, senior regional manager

for Workers' Credit Union