10 ways to keep your data safe online

The Internet can be a playground for scam artists and thieves. Identity theft can be a concern for anyone using the internet for banking, paying bills, making purchases and other online transactions. Here are 10 tips to help you keep your online data safe:

Use secure wireless
Free Wi-Fi and wireless hubs sound great, but logging on to them can put you and your personal information at risk. A secure wireless network is one that requires a password or network key to prevent unknown or unauthorized users from accessing it. Protect yourself by using a secure wireless network at home.

Wi-Fi signals are not contained to the walls of your house, so a neighbor or someone in a car parked down the street can access your network and steal private information. A hacker or web user who is up to no good can easily see anything you send out on the coffee shop’s public Wi-Fi network, like your passwords, credit card number or bank login. The information you send over a secure connection becomes encrypted, meaning it gets jumbled to prevent others from reading it.

Shop smart
Only make purchases on sites you trust, and go with your gut. Stay away from purchases on websites that look sketchy or boast a deal that is way too good to be true. Make sure you have spelled the name of the retail outlet from which you want to buy correctly so you don’t get scammed by an imposter site. Consider designating one credit card for online purchases and carefully monitor its activity. Check out “11 Tips for Safe Online Shopping” for more information.

Secure browsing
Determining if the website you are on is secure varies by browser. Only enter personal data once you have verified the security of the site. Some sites include an “s” in the web address after “http.” Look for the padlock icon at the end of or near the address box. Here  is a general guide to changing the security settings on your browser, although yours may vary due to updates or new versions.

Don’t feed the phish
Phishing is when Internet scammers try to trick you into giving them your personal information through pop ups and spam emails. Legitimate companies will not ask you for your social security number or account information via email. Do not answer emails that instruct you to update, validate or confirm any account information. If you are worried that there might actually be something wrong with your account, go to the company’s website (don’t click on the link provided!) and check.

Vary your passwords

No matter what, do not make your password your username or real name, numbers one through eight or “password.” Use acronyms, phonetic replacements, symbols, uppercase and lowercase letters for a stronger password. Change the passwords of important accounts every three months, and don’t use one password across the board.

Log off
Don’t leave your computer open and accessible when you walk away from your desk. Make sure you have logged out of everything before you leave a public computer.

Check your own privacy settings

Internet cookies, which store bits of information from your web navigation, have been a topic of controversy. Monitor the information they contain and decide if the cookies are putting your personal information at risk. Also be cautious of what sites you save your password and username on.

Keep your system up to date

Firewalls, anti-virus and anti-spyware software can protect you again spam and phishing. Make sure you are always using the newest version and check for updates frequently.

Be suspicious

If one of the people you follow on Twitter who usually comments on politics suddenly tweets a link to this magic weight loss pill she found, do not click on the link. Do not open attachments from unknown senders.

Report any suspicious activities
If you see that someone charged plane tickets to Hawaii on your credit card, and you aren’t the one going to use them, contact your credit card company right away. Monitor your credit reports and immediately report any suspicious activity to the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion).