Start with issues you can control. Modems and routers are vulnerable to frequent crashes. A simple reboot usually corrects this problem. Try using another PC to reach the web – you could have a faulty network card in the first. If you still can't get online, check if your local network is working. You may need to reboot or replace the router.
Your PC problems solved
Is your cable or DSL modem displaying error lights? If it indicates trouble, unplug it and your router, shut down your PC, wait 30 seconds, plug everything back in and restart. Try resetting your PC connection in Windows. Click Start, Run, type CMD then ipconfig /renew at the terminal prompt.
If you're using a wireless adaptor, try plugging your PC directly into the router via an ethernet cable, or connect the PC directly to the modem to further isolate the problem. Check all cables and replace them if at all possible. Examine cable modems for fraying on the coaxial wiring.
Check with your ISP (internet service provider) about known outages. Your ISP may need to send a reset signal to your modem. At this point, you're probably dealing with a network outage. These are usually temporary, but report it anyway.
To avoid future web-free periods, have a backup dialup number or a Wi-Fi laptop you can take to a nearby hotspot.
You'll probably never know how this happened. Scammers use all kinds of methods to steal personal data, grabbing it from discarded bank and credit card statements, skimming cards at a cash machine or slurping financial information entered online.
Cancel all your cards and immediately inform your bank and credit card companies. Request a new account number if necessary. Change all PINs (personal identification numbers). Banks and credit card companies require notice in writing of any compromised accounts, and you'll probably need to sign an affidavit at the bank disputing fraudulent transactions.
Change the passwords for any online banking or other sites you have used for transactions. Call the credit reporting agencies Equifax and Experian and tell them what's happened. You can check your credit report with these agencies for any illegal or inaccurate listings. File forms disputing the reports, as appropriate.
Tell the police, especially if you were physically robbed or have an idea how else someone may have got hold of your cards or bank details. You'll need police reports to back up your story with the credit agencies, as well as for reference purposes.
Future financial security
Check your credit report every year or so. Use strong passwords and PINs. Keep personal details including your National Insurance number – and any other useful tidbits – to yourself. Limit the business you do online to sites you've vetted.
If you're having persistent pop-up problems, spyware or adware is probably at work. Unplug your PC from the network or disable your wireless connection. Boot into Safe mode by pressing the key you're prompted to during boot-up (often this is F8).
Run a complete system scan using your antivirus software. Then run Ad-Aware (lavasoftusa.com) and Spybot Search & Destroy (spybot.info), and fix all the problems these apps uncover. Restore your internet connection, reboot and run both programs again after updating them with the latest definitions. Consider using an online virus checker, too.
If you have a truly nasty infection – some spyware runs amok even in Safe mode – then you may need to use HijackThis. Getting your PC back can be a lengthy process.
If all else fails, try using System Restore to roll back your operating system to a happier time or even reinstalling Windows.
Staying one step ahead
Use common sense. Don't click on strange attachments, pop-ups or links on dodgy sites. Raise IE's security settings (go to Tools, Internet Options, Security) or switch browsers. Keep your antivirus and antispyware programs up to date. Turn on System Restore. Disinfect your PC at the first sign of trouble, since spyware tends to snowball, and save current copies of your security applications on a USB drive or optical disc for easy access.