1) The number one problem with passwords is forgetting the password. To prevent this, we recommend writing your passwords down. (Yes, we know this kind of defeats the purpose, but this can save hours of time and much aggravation.) Paste your password sheet somewhere only you know, such as under your desk, which is where we paste our password sheet (oh, what a giveaway!). Then update it frequently, but don't save it on your computer. Print it out, but don't click on Yes or Save when the computer asks if you want to save the document. Do not store this password sheet in your wallet!

2) The number one problem in typing in your password is usually the Caps Lock key, although many programs that require a password will tell you with a little pop-up window on the screen that the Caps Lock key is ON.  The Caps Lock key, of course, allows you to type all capital letters with one press of the Caps Lock key; it turns OFF the Caps Lock feature when you press the key again. Usually, there is a [green] light on the key, the keyboard, the keyboard receiver (if it's a wireless keyboard), or the screen somewhere that lights up when the Caps Lock feature is turned ON. Try pressing the Caps Lock key on the keyboard, then type in your password.

3) If you forget your password, the best thing to do if you've tried all of the ones you can think of and all their permutations, is to contact the company. Call or write the website owners (yes, we know that they usually don't answer their calls or e-mail), but most websites have a link that says something like, "Forgot your password?" Click on this link, then type in the information they need so that they will release your password to you. They will usually send your password to the e-mail address you gave them when you registered on their website the first time.

4) If step # 3 doesn't work, try re-registering again. If the website tells you that you've already registered using that name or e-mail address, you may need to set up another e-mail account at a free e-mail website, such as Yahoo, Google, Netscape, MSN, etc., then go back and re-register with the new e-mail address. (You may have to do this because you need to click on a link in a confirmation e-mail message that they send you to complete the registration process.)

5) Not only is it important to type in your password using the correct characters, but it usually makes a difference which case you use. So, if your password is Fido123, you may not be able to type in FIDO123 or fido123 and get through.

6) The best passwords contain almost random characters in mixed case, such as xyZ497$Bv. Change them frequently (for example, change the previous one to abc498$Cw). Also, the password should be at least 6 or 8 characters long; many websites require a minimum of 8 characters.

7) The worst passwords to use are simple ones, such as:

1) Your first (sterlington) or last name (fortescue).
2) The word password or password1.
3) Your pet's name (fido).
4) Your spouse's or significant other's name (killer).
5) Your bank PIN number (1111 or 1234) or a simple set of numbers (1111 or 1234).
6) Your middle name ("W").
7) Your initials (sf).
8) Your phone number or address (i.e., your house number).
9) Your Social Security number ("OMG!").
10) Your birthdate ("Forget it!").
11) A word in the dictionary, such as computer or kazakhstan.
12) The initials or names of your children or grandchildren (joshua*).

8) You should generally have at least one private password and one public one. The private one, which is more complicated and secure, is what you would use on websites such as online banking sites, online brokerage sites, eBay, PayPal, etc. The public one would be for more frivolous sites, such as newspaper websites, game sites, e-greeting card sites, or for non-private e-mail accounts. You can have more than one of each type of password, but you should have at least one private and one public password.

9) Never type your passwords, Social Security number, bank PIN numbers/account numbers, or credit card numbers into forms in e-mail or on websites that look even slightly suspicious. Be sure that the website address at the top of your browser starts with https://  (the "s" automatically turns on the security features of your browser) and that there aren't any clues in the website address that usually indicate a scam website, such as:

1) Website addresses that purport to be for a bank or mortgage company but have numbers in them, such as:

2) Website addresses that change one or more letters or add a strange prefix or suffix:

3) Websites or e-mail messages that promise free riches beyond your wildest dreams for very little work on your part. We're thinking in particular of the Nigerian e-mail scams that ask for your bank account number so that they can transfer a large sum of money to some Nigerian ex-patriot who lives here, but doesn't have access to a bank account.

Note: The latest versions of Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer, Mozilla Firefox, Safari and Opera have an anti-phishing warning feature at the top of their windows. "Phishing" is the process of trying to steal sensitive personal data from someone by using scam websites or e-mail.

10) When in doubt, call your bank, mortgage company, stock brokerage company, etc. They will probably tell you that they never ask for your password, credit card number, etc. using e-mail.

11) There are programs you can get for free or purchase, such as Norton Password Manager, that will store your various passwords for you and deliver them automatically as needed. You need a master password to access the innards of the program to change any of the passwords.

* see this film and this link.