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Identity Thieves May Lurk in Search Engine Results

Identity thieves and other criminals are constantly coming up with new methods to steal sensitive financial data, especially when it comes to spreading malware and similar programs online.

However, as people become more wary of suspicious emails with attachments claiming to be from their bank or some other government agency, the data thieves have had to adapt, including by setting up phony websites about popular celebrities and other topics.

For example, McAfee.com recently released a list of the "Top Ten Most Dangerous Olympians," to call attention to the danger of phony websites that contain malware. According to the website, people who look up speed skater Jennifer Rodriguez have the highest risk of landing on a site infested with malware, while Japanese speed skater Sayuri Osuga was deemed the second most "dangerous Olympian."

Others making the list include figure skater Alexander Smirnov of Russia, Canadian women's hockey player Gillian Apps and curler Angelina Jensen of Denmark.

McAfee has also warned internet users that they are at an increased risk for malware with certain celebrity searches. Last year, Angelina Jolie and President Barack Obama were the two most common search terms for public figures that could land people on malware-infested websites.

Also, people who simply look up common search terms such as "game cheats" or concert tickets, especially for popular bands, could be equally exposed to online criminal tactics.

With these things in mind, one of the most important things to remember when shopping online or visiting websites is to try to stick to reputable and well-established retailers and news providers. For example, if a retail website is mentioned in a place like a news website's message board, it's a good sign to avoid it. Websites that purport to offer unusually low prices for products such as electronics are also considered generally suspect, while URLs that appear to have been generated at random should also be approached with extreme caution.

It's also crucial to maintain updated virus protection software in case one does land on an infested website. Those who do fall victim to such programs may find that any banking passwords contained on their computers could be at risk, as well as any credit card information.