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9 Tips for Protecting Your Online Identity

NEW YORK ( -- If you aren't concerned about someone stealing your online data, you should be. If you have Internet access, you are a potential victim of having your personal information stolen. In the past few years, hackers have broken in and obtained account information for millions of consumers.

Two separate major hacking incidents occurred with Sony (SNE) over the past few weeks. Hackers may have stolen personal information from some 25 million accounts from Sony Online Entertainment. In a separate attack on the PlayStation Network and Qriocity, sensitive details could have been at risk for a reported 77 million customers. Personal information at risk included name, address, email address, birthdate, PlayStation password and login.

Hackers may have recently stolen personal information from some 25 million accounts from Sony Online Entertainment and from another 77 million customers on the PlayStation Network and Qriocity.

In addition, the hackers may have stolen password security answers and credit card information.

Sony is certainly not the only major corporation to be the target of a massive heist. Last year, 130 million accounts were stolen from payment processer Heartland Payment Systems (HPY). In 2007, 46 million accounts were stolen from TJ Maxx and Marshall's (TJX). Even MasterCard (MA) had a reported 40 million accounts compromised in 2005.

Here are some steps and precautions you can take to protect yourself from online hackers:

1. Change your passwords from time to time. Don't publicly post anything you may use as a password: your birthdate, pet's name, mother's maiden name or your school. Identity thieves can use the information you post to guess your password.

2. Do not email your credit card number to anyone. There are many phishing scams using Sony's name now, but Sony, or any other company, will not contact you and ask for your Social Security number, credit card number or other personal information. Be cautious about opening any attachment or downloading any files from email you get, regardless of what company sent them. You can forward phishing emails to

3. Monitor debt and credit cards for suspicious purchases at least weekly. If you feel your card information was stolen, consider canceling your linked card. Be persistent with watching your accounts; it may be months or even a year before thieves actually use your card.

4. Check your credit reports. You can get one free credit report every year from each of the three credit bureaus online or by calling (877) 322-8228. Stagger these reviews throughout the year in order to catch anything that isn't correct in your account.

5. If you use a wireless router, password protect it and enable the encryption to scramble the data you send online.

6. Use your credit card instead of debit card. Credit cards offer stronger fraud and identity theft protections.

7. If you feel your information has been compromised, place a fraud alert at the three major credit bureaus. Call Experian at 888-397-3742; Equifax at 800-525-6285; and TransUnion at 800-680-7289. Put a security freeze on your files.

8. Ask your bank if it has free software to protect your bank account. Bank of America (BAC) offers Trusteer Rapport for its online banking customers.

9. If your information has been stolen, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. The information is used to create a picture of wrongdoing. Unfortunately, the FTC won't get your money back.

-- Reported by Bill Hardekopf of

Bill Hardekopf is chief executive of, which compares and rates more than 1,000 credit cards. He is the co-author of "The Credit Card Guidebook."

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