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Whether you like it or not, information about your surfing habits, buying preferences, and personal life is being collected and shared by information brokers and marketing analysts. As you browse the internet, order from catalogs, or shop at your local grocery, you are leaving an information trail that defines you and your family to both legitimate as well as unscrulpulous businesses and agencies. The following tips will help you protect your privacy and maintain security online, on the telephone, and around your home.

TIP 1: Use one of the many available free email accounts for your personal email. You will avoid problems like spam and chain mail flooding your home computer, as well as your employer's scrutiny of your email at work.

TIP 2: Teach your children that revealing personal information online can be as serious as talking to strangers on the street. If you are providing financial information online for a purchase, make sure the company uses a secure system.

TIP 3: Use an "anonymizer" while browsing. These tools allow you to browse without being traced. While some websites will not allow entry with an anonymous browser, and surfing may be somewhat slower using this method, it is prudent to utilize an anonymous browser whenever possible.

TIP 4: Choose the internet option on your browser to prompt you for permission to set "cookies." Cookies allow companies to store data on your computer about your visit to their web site. Always reject unnecessary cookies. And remember to clear your memory cache after browsing, especially at work.

TIP 5: Request an unlisted home telephone number and restrict its availability. Make sure your phone line has a line block so calls cannot be traced. If you must give out a phone number, give your work number.

TIP 6: A good rule to follow is to never give out personal or financial information over the phone unless you initiate the call. An unlisted number will not eliminate calls from telemarketers who use computer (random) dialing. If you are interested in the product or service being offered, take the name and phone number, verify that the company is legitimate, and call them later.

TIP 7: Use an answering machine to screen your phone calls. There are also services available for a fee that allow you to screen calls through other methods, including caller ID and restricted caller options. Check with your local phone company.

TIP 8: Never write your social security number or credit card numbers on your checks. Instead, write check numbers on bills and invoices.

TIP 9: Carefully guard all your financial account numbers. It is not necessary to release credit card, debit card, bank account, or calling card numbers unless you are making a purchase or applying for credit. Check your credit report at least once per year to ensure it contains accurate information.

TIP 10: Purchase and use a paper shredder at home. Shred all unwanted credit applications, old bank statements, and any documents with personal data. Alternately, if you have a fireplace, these documents should be burned.

Finally, just use common sense. For example, the manufacturers who request all the detailed information about your preferences and financial status on their warranty cards, do not need that information to validate your warranty. Before you give out any information, whether it's online, over the phone, or at the drug store, ask yourself whether it's really necessary. While there's no need to be paranoid about your privacy, there is certainly reason to be cautious.