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The Internet is awash in scammers, spammers, hackers, thieves and frauds. They are growing in number and in the sophistication of attacks.

I'm not telling you anything new — nearly everyone is aware of the need to be vigilant in guarding personal and financial information in the digital world.

But it's getting harder to keep up on all the sneaky, new ways human vermin are developing to infiltrate digital devices and steal data or money. And there are still a lot of people who are kind, empathetic, compassionate and still believe, against all odds, in the basic goodness and inherent honesty of every person.

Swindlers and crooks love these people.

I've written on this topic many times, but it's always worth revisiting because the main messages cannot be emphasized enough: Always be wary. Trust no one. Share as little as possible.

I'm going to be extremely cynical now. In the digital world, you are merely one of billions of containers, each holding only two things that matter: Data and dollars. There are people who want one or both of these items, and, once you've been drained of your holdings, you no longer have meaning or value online.

So protect yourself.

First, install security and virus protection software. You need programs that constantly monitor your digital devices against threats and update themselves to look for new attack strategies.

A well-known 2004 study found an unprotected computer connected to the Internet is attacked more than 300 times per hour and, on average, is broken into and compromised within 20 minutes (http://usat.ly/1H7lM9n).

One recent study found spyware may be hiding on 89 percent of consumer computers. The average American's computer could be infected with 30 pieces of spyware (http://bit.ly/1EU7pGg).

The fact is, an unprotected computer is nearly six times more likely to get infected than a protected computer (http://bit.ly/1E0sBsf).

There are a number of excellent virus and security software programs out there such as Kaspersky Lab (http://bit.ly/1A4kQ0O), AVG Internet Security (http://bit.ly/1Nqy0yb), WebRoot (http://bit.ly/1FkZTCc), Bitdefender (http://bit.ly/17YkGAu), McAfee (http://bit.ly/1EvRYDF) and Norton (http://bit.ly/1x0Ni28).

They range in price from $20 to $50 per year — any of them will provide excellent virus protection.

You can read tests and reviews of these products (http://bit.ly/1x0NjDg and http://bit.ly/1AOsVFT, for example) to help you decide which is best for you.

There's also a great free virus program called AVG Free, free.avg.com. Download this software for immediate protection on your PC or Mac desktop, tablet or smart phone.

AVG Free will locate infections then clear them out. It will also protect you against future break-in attempts on your devices.

The free product has some limitations compared to the paid version in terms of configuration options and protection against some specialized online threats. But if you need to find out where your computer stands with infections right now, it's worth trying the free software first then looking at paid versions for long-term, constantly updated protection.

Next, be aware of "tech support" scams and frauds that have been circulating for years and are recently reappearing with disconcerting frequency.

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In essence, these "services" claim to be able to check or fix your computer over the Web or through software they want you to install.

Don't fall for it. All you'll get is more viruses and possibly the theft of your identity and money.

The Federal Trade Commission has a good article on these scams (http://1.usa.gov/1G77epa) as does Fraud.org (http://bit.ly/1EvSuRZ).

Legitimate tech support companies won't call you unsolicited or ask you to pay for the support.

Never blindly give someone remote access to your computer. Check them out. You're under no time constraints to respond — not if they're legit.

Talk to someone locally first.

Digital creeps are out there, waiting for you to make a mistake.

Protect yourself.

(Keith Darnay is the Tribune's online manager and has worked in the online world for more than two decades. His site is at darnay.com.)

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