While Valentine’s Day may be an evermore, distant memory, the sting of loneliness can still ache for those of us who didn’t have anyone to celebrate the Hallmark holiday. No matter how much we may want to believe that the holiday is just another day, it is rough to be without someone to snuggle with on Feb. 14. If we are lucky, we can find solace in the company of single friends and family members until the day finally passes.

Admittedly, when the refuge of friends and family isn’t enough to console, many of us turn to the greatest hub of lonely people on the planet – the Internet. Whether you are looking to chat or just participate in more solitary activities, it is a great escape from a lonely reality. Unfortunately, the feeling of heartbreak that we have to suffer with when we are alone on Valentine’s is exactly the motivation that hackers like to play on.

The newest, Valentine’s-themed crop of nasty virtual demons to torture the unsuspecting Internet visitors has been dubbed “Flirt Bots.” As the name implies, these pre-programmed personas send messages to random users’ instant messengers. While their artificial intelligence is fairly weak, they are interactive enough to fool anyone who genuinely wants to believe that a sexy stranger has randomly chosen them. After a bit of scripted flirting, the bots suggest that the user follows a link to a site that boasts a free trial of their private, sexy webcam.

For anyone who knows about these scams, the trap is obvious and the results are nasty. Whether the links on the page lead to viral downloads or if they simply ask for your credit card information and use it for their own purposes, loneliness will suddenly become the least of your problems.

The truth is that the Internet has become a playground for hackers, scammers and thieves. Even if you are careful about your surfing patterns and avoid scams like these, there are always new bots, Trojans, viruses and other digital damage that can be done to your computer, your identity and your bank account. To combat them, you need a defense that evolves as fast as the threats do.

PC Tools (pctools.com) feels that they have the best solution to this ever-changing problem. Their line of software is built to work together with the Windows Firewall against everything from viruses to spyware. Best of all, the basic versions of their programs are available for free online.

The first program, Spyware Doctor with Anti-Virus, has an amazingly straightforward name and a single-minded goal of keeping your computer clean. Once you have downloaded and installed the file from Google Pack (pack.google.com), it will immediately ask to be updated and then to initiate a full scan. The Spyware Doctor is a very powerful threat detection and deletion tool, but the interface is very simple and intuitive.

Once the scan is done and all threats have been quarantined, the Spyware Doctor continues to keep an eye on your hard drive thanks to a number of active scanning items that have been packed into its IntelliGuard service. If the threat is known, Spyware Doctor will do its best to keep it from bothering you.

Of course, that is the eternal weakness of anti-virus programs. As long as people see some profit in creating malicious programs, there will always be the risk that you may be among the first people to catch a particular virus. What you need is something that can catch the threats even if they haven’t hit the big times yet.

PC Tools’ ThreatFire (threatfire.com) is a unique approach to this problem. Rather than simply looking for well-known viruses, ThreatFire scans for new programs that run notably differently from your regular programs. If there is a program that acts more like a virus or a keylogger than it does a normal program, ThreatFire will isolate it and bring it up to your attention.

This active scanning for malicious programs works with your existing anti-virus to offer even greater protection. If the company’s claims are true, it can even stop viruses that are too new to be on any virus list. Best of all, you can get the power of ThreatFire’s Active Defense protection for free by downloading the basic version at threatfire.com.

It is obviously still a good idea to educate yourself about scams and viruses and to avoid risky sites altogether, but the combined protection of ThreatFire and Spyware Doctor should make it safer to look for companionship online.