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HOUSTON If you bought a pre-owned computer or rent one from a store, you never know what kind of hidden software might be spying on you.

The Federal Trade Commission is cracking down on programs that allow spies, over the Internet, to see what you type, your webcam photos, your personal files, and even your location.

There are dozens of programs that can be secretly installed on a computer to monitor everything you do. Sometimes it s put there by a suspecting spouse or an employer who wants to make sure workers stay on task.

But in the case of seven rent-to-own companies, it was different, says the FTC.

FTC officials this week said the companies used software from a company called DesignerWare to monitor customers that rented and bought computers from them. The software, called PCRental Agent,was installed on about 420,000 computers across the country.

When in Detective Mode, the FTC says DesignerWare s software can monitor everything via the Internet. Worst of all, customers had no idea it possible.

The rental companies said they did it so they could track down customers and disable their computers if they stopped making payments, but the FTC says these programs take it too far. As part of a settlement, DesignerWare'sprogramwas banned.

DesignerWare's owner said the FTC grossly misunderstood the purpose of PCRental Agent as an anti-theft software, reported NetworkWorld.com.

ButPC Rental Agentisn t the only program of its kind, and many of these spy programs can t be found by hitting CTRL+ALT+DEL and looking through the list of programs running on your Windows machine.

Programs/tips you can use to scan your computer for hidden software and malware:
>> Spybot S&D (Free) - http://www.safer-networking.org/
>> MSConfig (Free) - How to find a keylogger on your computer

Not all of the software these programs find is harmful or spying, so if you see something that looks suspicious, Google the program s name and see what you find. If you don t like it, remove it.

Thinking about installing a keylogger or spy software on someone s computer without them knowing? Be aware: many states say this is unlawful in most situations.

Questions? Comments? Feel free to reach out to Doug on Facebook (facebook.com/KHOUDougDelony)or Twitter (@DougDelonyKHOU)

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