By Sharon OmahenUniversity of GeorgiaYour personal computer mostlikely contains keys to your money and your life. And they’re not exactlyvaults. Computer experts say following a few basic tips, though, can preventoutsiders’ access.”More and more peopleare becoming victims of computer phishing when they could easily preventit,” said Bill Blum, a senior systems specialist with the University ofGeorgia College of Agricultural and Sciences. “Just as they do in thephysical world, scam artists on-line develop new and more sinister ways totrick you.””Phishing” is a playon “fishing,” or casting out hooks in hopes of enticing someone tobite. It’s an attempt to get financial information from you, Blum said.These e-mails most oftendirect you to a false Web site. “For example,” he said, “you mayget an e-mail that appears to come from your banking institution saying theyare having a problem with your account. You click on the URL, go to the Website and key in your password information.”Whoa. That’s not good.”You have just given them the first chink in your armor to performidentity theft on you,” Blum said.Once phishers gain accessto your bank information, they can search further for credit card numbers andyour Social Security number, he said.How can you tell whether asite is truly your bank’s Web site?”Secured portions ofsites like banking sites have URLs that begin with https,” Blum said.”The ‘s’ stands for secure. You should also see a closed‑lockgraphic, usually in the lower right corner of your screen, when you’re on asecured site. If the graphic is an open lock, you’re on an unsecuredsite.”The closed lock doesn’tguarantee the site is safe. “But it’s a major step in the rightdirection,” he said.Blum says you can furtherprotect yourself from phishing by never responding to requests for personalinformation in e‑mails or pop‑up windows.”When in doubt,”he said, “call the institution that claims to be the sender of the e‑mailor pop‑up window before you respond.”Always visit Web sites bytyping the URL into your address bar. Never access it by clicking on the URL inan e-mail.To make sure you aren’t aphishing victim, Blum said, routinely review your credit card and bankstatements for errors. The sooner you find them, the sooner you can take actionto correct them.”Report suspected abusesof your personal information to the proper authorities as soon aspossible,” Blum said. “Typically, the credit-reporting agencies youshould contact are Equifax, TransUnion and Experian.”Four steps to secure yoursystem, he said, are:1. Install an antivirusprogram and keep it up‑to‑date. Periodically scan your entiresystem for viruses.2. If you’re running aWindows‑based system, always perform your Windows critical updates(www.windowsupdate.com) with Internet Explorer.3. Install a spyware detectionand removal program, such as Ad‑aware (www.lavasoftusa.com) or SpyBot(www.safer‑networking.org). “You pick up spyware when you go to Websites or get spam‑type e-mail,” Blum said. “Programs like Ad‑Awareand SpyBot can help keep spyware away.” Both are free.4. If you’re get on-linethrough DSL or cable access, install a software firewall. “It allows youto control traffic in and out and prevents all other traffic,” Blum said.”The most common are Windows Firewall (if using Windows XP), ZoneAlarm andF‑Secure Client Security.” Dial‑up users don’t always needfirewall protection. But it’s always helpful.If installing softwareintimidates you, Blum said, contact a reputable computer professional. Or justbuy current computer magazines for tips and visit Web sites likewww.zonelabs.com.