By Senior Officer Larry Jacobs

Online identity theft is on the rise.

It was once thought that just having an anti-virus program and even a firewall was enough to protect you. Today’s online criminals are much savvier and the only way to protect yourself is to adapt and take a much more proactive role in protecting yourself.

Here are some very good suggestions that I found that can really decrease your chances from becoming an online identity theft victim. They come from www.mercola.com.

1. Don’t assume your security software is completely protecting you

Security software is fully effective only when activated and frequently updated. Renew the subscription when the software prompts you, and make sure your security software is active when you’re online, and that it has been updated within the past week or so.

2. Don’t access an account through an e-mail link

No matter how official an e-mail message looks, trying to access a financial account by clicking on embedded Web links is risky. If the e-mail message is fraudulent, a cybercriminal could use the account number and password you enter to steal your identity or empty your bank account. Access your online accounts only by using your existing browser bookmark or typing in the institution’s Web address.

If you suspect that an e-mail is a phishing attempt, forward it to spam@uce.gov and reportphishing@antiphishing.org.

3. Don’t use a single password for all online accounts

Nine percent of home Internet users designate a single password for all their accounts. That practice lets someone who gets your password and steals your identity easily access all your accounts. Using different passwords need not be burdensome. Use slight variations on one password.

4. Be careful about downloading free software

You couldn’t resist that neat, free utility. Now your computer runs slower than ever. That’s because spyware was probably packaged with the freebies. Download freeware only from reputable sites such as SnapFiles.com and Download.com. Eliminate most spyware by downloading the free Microsoft Windows Defender and scan your PC.

5. Don’t assume your Mac shields you from all risks

Mac users fall prey to phishing scams at about the same rate as Windows users, yet far fewer of them protect themselves with an anti-phishing toolbar. To make matters worse, the browser of choice for most Mac users, Apple’s Safari, has no phishing protection. Until Apple beefs up Safari, use a browser with phishing protection, such as the latest version of Firefox or Opera. Also try a free anti-phishing toolbar such as McAfee Site Advisor or FirePhish.

6. Don’t click on a pop-up ad that says your PC is insecure

Fifteen percent of respondents to a survey who saw pop-up ads clicked on them. But that’s never a good idea. Even if you know such pop-ups are phonies, they’re still dangerous. It’s easy to click inside the ad by mistake and be transferred to a spyware site or, worse, have malware automatically downloaded onto your computer. When closing a pop-up, carefully click on the X on the upper left or right corner, not within the window. To avoid pop-ups altogether, enable your browser’s pop-up blocker or use a free add-on blocker such as Google Toolbar.

7. Shop online differently from the way you do in stores

Online shopping requires special precautions because the risks are different than in a walk-in store: You can’t always be sure who you’re doing business with. You must disclose more personal information, such as your address, to the online retailer. Thieves can sneak in undetected between you and the retail site. Use a separate credit card just for your Internet shopping. Don’t use a debit card. Sites that display “https” before their address when you’re entering sensitive information and those displaying certification symbols from TRUSTe and other organizations are usually safe, but there are no guarantees.

Senior Officer Larry Jacobs works in the crime prevention division of the Sandy Springs Police Department. He can be reached at larry.jacobs@sandyspringsga.org.