Worldwide, there has been a dramatic increase in online and computer-based identity theft.

McAfee has announced the availability of a white paper from McAfee Avert Labs which reports that the number of keyloggers – malicious software code that tracks typing activity to capture passwords and other private information – has increased by 250% between January 2004 and May 2006.
Additional findings show that the number of phishing alerts tracked by the Anti-Phishing Working Group has multiplied 100-fold over the same period of time. The report also provides practical guidelines that minimise the risk of identity theft to help readers protect themselves and prevent this increasingly common crime.
The white paper, titled, "Identity Theft," is available for download at http://www.mcafee.com/us/threat_center/white_paper.html .
"Identity theft is a global phenomenon that threatens all of us, which means we all need to become more aware, more vigilant and less trusting to protect ourselves," says Chris van Niekerk, regional director: Africa at McAfee.
"By learning where we are vulnerable, and how and why criminals engage in identity theft, we can then take the necessary precautions to avoid being victimised."
The study shows that identity theft exacts a high toll on national economies around the world. According to the Federal Trade Commission, the annual cost for consumers and businesses in the US alone reaches $50-billion annually. In the UK, the Home Office has calculated the cost of identity theft to the British economy at $3,2-billion during the last three years and some estimates from the Australian Centre for Policing Research place the cost of identity theft at $3-billion each year.
The white paper reviews identity theft techniques, from non-technical approaches like dumpster diving to sophisticated keyloggers that monitor computer keyboard keystrokes to steal online usernames and passwords. The report presents high-profile examples of identity theft cases from around the world along with an  verview of the types of criminals and organisations that engage in identity theft for profit or to facilitate terrorist acts.
The McAfee Avert Labs white paper concludes with practical guidelines for preventing identity theft and minimising the risks of being victimised.
Key prevention tips for computer users include:
* Watch out for phishing scams – fraudulent e-mails and Web sites that impersonate legitimate businesses to trick people into revealing personal information;
* Avoid clicking on links in emails to visit Web sites, but instead manually type a company's correct Web address into the browser
* Install comprehensive security software or services – including anti-virus, anti-spyware and firewall protection – and keep it up to date
* Use caution when opening e-mail attachments, regardless of who sent them
* Take care before sharing e-mail addresses
* Permanently erase computer hard drives before disposing of old computers
* Make sure Web sites are secure before visiting and providing personal information
* Use strong passwords
* Use caution when communicating through instant messaging