The internet can be a scary place, especially if you’re not digitally savvy. A recent study by Norton found that one in three people are victims of cybercrime at some point in their lives. That’s why it’s more important than ever to protect yourself online and safeguard your personal information. Unless you live under a rock, you probably know that there are plenty of creeps out there looking to steal your information or even worse — blackmail you with it. Being smart online is the best way to protect yourself from these bad actors and avoid becoming a victim. Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind the next time you venture into the world wide web.

Beware of Phishing Scams

Phishing scams involve fake emails, texts, or ads that look legitimate but are intended to trick you into providing your personal information such as your passwords, credit card information, or even your Social Security number. For example, scammers may send emails pretending to be from your bank or credit card company, saying that your account has been compromised and that you need to “fix” it by clicking on a link and entering your information. Avoid falling for these scams by keeping in mind that a legitimate company will never ask for your information via email. If you get an email from your bank or credit card company asking you to verify or confirm your account information, call them directly instead of clicking links or replying to the email.

Don’t Over-Share Online

It’s tempting to over-share on social media, but you really don’t have to give everything away. For example, there’s no need to share your exact location if you post on Instagram or go live on YouTube. Many people mistakenly believe that going “off the grid” and not posting anything on social media is the best way to protect yourself. While that may be true in some cases, it’s not always the best option. There are plenty of people who use social media to track and harass others, especially if you’re a public figure. For example, the dangers of social media for journalists are very real. It’s important to be careful about what you post and make sure you’re remaining as anonymous as possible. For example, don’t post your exact address on Facebook or Instagram. If possible, your best bet is to use a throwaway or fake name. If you post something controversial or that could put you in danger, delete it as soon as you can.

Set Strong Passwords

In addition to over-sharing, setting weak passwords is another major mistake people make online. Setting strong passwords can help protect your bank accounts, email accounts, social media accounts, and more.

Avoid free Wi-Fi

It’s best to avoid free Wi-Fi whenever possible. If you must use it, don’t log in to any sensitive accounts like your email or bank account. Instead, only log in to accounts that don’t contain sensitive information. If you’re at all worried that a hacker could be lurking on the network, don’t log into anything at all unless you’re on a VPN. A VPN encrypts your data so that hackers can’t see what you’re doing online. If you must log into sensitive accounts on public Wi-Fi, make sure you’re using a VPN like ExpressVPN. They offer a free version that will protect you from all the bad stuff out there.

Be careful with personal information

The best way to protect yourself online is to not give out your personal information unless absolutely necessary. If you must give out your personal information online, make sure you know who you’re dealing with. Some sites, like Craigslist and Ebay, will let you exchange information over email or phone, but others like Amazon and Google will only let you enter your information on their site. If you must give out your information to another person or company, be very careful with it. Don’t write it down, don’t put it in an email, and don’t say it out loud. It’s best to type it in to a website that uses an HTTPS connection.

Don’t click on links or download things unless you’re sure of their source

It’s tempting to click on links sent by your friends or click on links that promise great discounts or deals, but you should never click on links unless you’re completely sure of their source. If you want to be super safe, don’t click on any links at all online. If you really want to download something online, only download it from a site that you trust and make sure it’s legitimate.

Use trustworthy anti-virus software and a VPN

Make sure that you’re running anti-virus software on your computer and your phone. If you’re really trying to protect yourself online, you need a VPN. A VPN protects your data, identity, and location by routing your internet connection through a server in another country. A trustworthy VPN will protect your data from hackers and will let you access geo-restricted content like Netflix. A VPN like ExpressVPN will provide you with a free plan. Just be sure to avoid free VPNs like the plague.

Be Careful When Downloading Software

Be extra careful when downloading software like video games, apps, and particularly anti-virus software. Scammers often create fake websites that look identical to the real thing and trick people into downloading harmful software. If you’re downloading anything online, make sure it’s from a trusted source. Always check reviews and customer feedback to see what other people are saying about the product.

Use Two-Factor Authentication

If you can, use two-factor authentication on all your accounts. All it takes is a quick click and you’ll significantly increase your account security. For example, you can use Google Authenticator to log into your account on both your computer and your phone. Once you log into your account, you’ll be prompted to type in a 6-digit code that changes every 30 seconds. This code is generated by the app on your phone and is the best way to keep your account secure. While these tips might seem overwhelming, the best way to protect yourself online is to take a defense-in-depth approach. This means that you should employ a variety of different strategies to protect yourself and your data. It’s not enough to do one thing; you have to do everything to stay safe on the internet.

Stay up to date on Security Breaches

When a major security breach happens, make it a point to learn about it and how it happened. You can usually find articles written on the subject in the news or on websites like Wikipedia. These articles will often provide helpful tips on how to better protect yourself from the same thing happening to you. For example, the Equifax data breach of 2017 affected nearly 150 million people. If you were one of those people, it’s important to take steps to protect your information by placing freezes on your credit accounts, creating fraud alerts, and closely monitoring your credit report for suspicious activity. Keeping up to date on these hacks can help you avoid falling victim to the same scams or becoming another statistic.

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