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Spam (unwanted email) in your inbox or pop-up messages and search results on the Internet try to get you to click on a link that makes it appear you are going to a legitimate website. The message usually says that you need to "update" or "verify" your account information. It might threaten some dire consequences if you don't respond. The site you land on will look legitimate but it's bogus. It is designed to steal your identity and run up charges or commit crimes in your name. Some of the things to look out for are:

Fake web URLs

When searching for information, there are risks associated with popular search terms. Results may appear that will link to a fraudulent site. Searches for celebrities or current popular news stories of the day get the most hits from cyber criminals intent on luring users to their sites or products.

URLs within emails can carry the same risks. Learn how to recognize a fake URL and how to set your web browser's security settings to protect you against such sites. Turn off automatic pop ups and disable ads and Javascript in your browser for added protection.

Adware, spyware, scareware, and viruses

Avoid downloading free software unless you are certain it's from a reputable company. Free programs are often a device for delivering malware such as adware, spyware and viruses. Be careful of sites that tell you to install a new "plug-in" or "media player" to continue.

Another way criminals try to snag users is by offering "malware protection" through a message that pops up saying a virus has already been detected on the user's computer (hence the term "scareware"). Instead of fixing the "problem," users end up downloading a virus laded piece of software. Install virus protection software and make sure your firewall is turned on for added protection.