These days, Internet users have a lot more to be concerned about than the simple viruses of yesteryear. Trojans, phishing scams, spoofing, and other forms of spyware or malware can all present a security threat that starts from simply clicking on a link.

Unfortunately, antivirus and antispyware programs can’t protect us from all of these threats when we’re out there surfing, emailing, online banking or social networking. The following tips will help you stay safe on the Internet and think twice about the data you put out there that can put you at risk of fraud, identity theft, and other online criminal justice infractions.

Make Sure Your Programs Are Updated

It’s important to ensure that your operating system, software and antivirus are set to automatically enable program updates/patches. Otherwise, your system is vulnerable to hackers, new viruses, and other malware.

Beware of Suspicious Links

Most people know not to open attachments from suspicious emails or emails of an unknown source. However, you should also avoid clicking on links from emails of an unknown source or suspicious-looking links on instant messenger or social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook. These links can install programs which steal information from your computer.

Beware of Emails Prompting Sign-In

You should also avoid clicking on links in emails that purport to be from a financial institution and want you to sign into the site via their email. For example, if you receive an email from your bank or PayPal prompting you to sign in via a link in the email, it could be a phishing scam that spoofs the sign-in interface of the site to get your passwords and information.

Choose Passwords that Combine Letters and Numerals

Passwords that are words or phrases can be easily hacked. To ensure tighter security when surfing the Net, choose passwords with a letter-numeral combination for your email, banking and social networking accounts.

Use Bookmarks for Regular Sites

So many spoof sites can replicate the exact look and feel of PayPal, eBay, Facebook and online banking that it’s important to double-check the URL prior to entering your password. One way to automatically confirm you’re using the correct site each time you sign in is to set up bookmark tabs on your browser so you can simply click the links to get the official site.

Don’t Send your SSN Over the Internet

Never send your social security number (SSN) via email, instant messenger or social networking sites.

Use Safe Browsers

Mozilla Firefox and Google Chrome are considered to be among the safer Internet browsers. They have a wide variety of safety features, including warnings in Google search results of sites that could potentially harm your computer.

Set Your Browser’s Safety Settings to Medium or High

A “high” safety setting on your browser is ideal but can also be too disruptive, constantly checking in with you to confirm program configurations and already-trusted sites. Therefore the most common and recommended setting is between medium and high.

Don’t Advertise Identifiable Information

Social networking sites often prompt users to enter identifiable information on your profile page, including full name, date of birth, hometown, and current location. This information is usually optional and volunteering your correct date of birth can put you at risk of identity theft.

Don’t Advertise your Travel Plans

Bragging about how you only have “six more days til Florida!!!” on Facebook can put you at risk of home invasion as well as online scams. One travel scam in particular involves an individual masquerading as the traveller and contacting his or her family and friends for emergency funds due to a purported mugging or other travel hold-up.

Avoid Downloading Applications on Social Networking Sites

Facebook is especially notorious for prompting users to download applications (“apps”) which may render all of the personally identifying information you’ve provided to Facebook accessible to the third-party app developer. Avoid downloading applications when at all possible.

Choose Public Places for Meeting Online Friends

If you’re meeting someone whom you’ve just met in a chat room, on a social networking site or dating site, pick a public place for your first meeting and let a few friends or family members know where you’re going and what time you expect to be back.

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