By Bailey Newman, Content Team, CouponChief.com

We may think nothing of filling out forms and providing data to eCommerce sites, social media sites, and public forums, but thieves and swindlers are ready to take advantage of our lapses. The online danger comes in all kinds of packages, from romance scams to phishing schemes.

Even huge companies are not immune to security breaches. An example of such is the eBay attack, where cyber attackers stole names, addresses, even passwords from eBay’s entire database of over 145 million users. Although the incident was reported in May 2014, the hackers were active for almost the entire prior year. Another example is the Yahoo Bust, where Yahoo lost the personal information of about 1.5 billion user accounts between 2013 and 2016.

So how do you stay safe online?

The only way to make absolutely sure your data is safe online is to stop using the internet. That would be taking it too far, though. For most of us, the benefits of going online far outweigh the risks – we just have to be smart about what we do there.

Here’s the root of the issue: When you’re at home using your computer, it feels like you’re safe – like it’s just you and the screen. The truth, though, is that while you’re looking at the internet, it’s looking back at you. You’re connected digitally to the billions of other internet users globally, and there’s a specific identifier – your internet protocol address, or ‘IP’ – that sets your machine apart from the rest. It is the basis of your digital footprint.

To stay safe online, it’s important to understand the five primary areas of attack and the steps you can take to protect yourself from each.

  1. Antivirus software isn’t always effective, so getting a robust antivirus program is essential.

This is one of the biggest security mistakes online shoppers make. New computers typically come with antivirus software pre-installed. The new owner figures that mean the machine is good to go then proceeds to surf indiscriminately – figuring the software will act as a bodyguard and fight off any attackers.

That’s now always true, though. One reason is that the antivirus software that comes on new computers is a trial version only (unless you specifically purchased it with the machine). Also, there are a number of ways antivirus software can get turned off. Whether you shut it down on purpose to install another program successfully, it gets turned off accidentally, or a cyberattack shuts it down – if it’s not on, it’s not protecting you. No tool is perfect, but a robust antivirus program is essential. You should never go online without that first and persistent line of defense.

  1. Do you really know what you’re clicking on?

Soldiers know one of the favorite tricks of the enemy is to bury explosives along the road or trail. It’s a 24/7 way to catch someone off guard and exploit the situation. Cybercrooks do the same thing. They don’t use artillery shells or high-explosive charges for their landmines, though, they use clicks… YOUR clicks.

Common traps include pop-ups saying your computer has been infected with a virus and you must click (or call a phone number) to fix the issue, ‘Unsubscribe’ links in emails that really aren’t unsubscribe links, and pop-ups or emails saying you’ve just won a prize and must click to claim it. As with most things, if it sounds too good (or bad) to be true… it probably is.

Threat levels have escalated with the rapid growth of internet speed capabilities. It may take only a few seconds for the crooks to push their code to your machine. Those few seconds could cause major upheaval to your life. Don’t risk clicking on risky links. Always hover to check that a link is going to a familiar, friendly website you trust.

  1. Every download is a potential landmine.

You don’t always have to be tricked into downloading malicious files. Sometimes, you go looking for it. Special dangers are sites offering software, music, or videos for free. ‘Torrent sites’ are especially prone to deliver more than you bargained for in the way of headaches.

When you click “Okay” to install a file, you’ve no control over what happens next. With many malicious files, you don’t even need to acknowledge the installation. It happens automatically.It’s also possible you won’t know anything’s going on at all.

Play it safe. Be smart. If you need a program, pay for it… otherwise, you may pay a whole lot more than you ever intended.

  1. Be careful of where you leave your digital footprints.

Every post you make on social media, every website you visit, and every form you enter information into can be a collection point for thieves and scoundrels.  If they can collect enough personal data from your posts, they may be able to ask for a password reset and access your secure locations. Identity thieves and neighborhood break-in artists love social media. You tell them everything they want to know there – including when your home is going to be vacant for an extended period, your mother’s maiden name, and the make of your first automobile.

How can you protect yourself? That’s easy: stop doing that. Wait until you’re home from vacation to post those photos, and never respond to those chain letter inquiries that require you to reveal everything down to the color of your underwear.

Your digital footprints are like your tracks in wet sand. They tell everyone exactly where you’ve been. The digital version doesn’t get washed away with the tide, though. They’ll be there for a long, long time. Not only does that give potential employers a candid window to check up on what you look like apart from a resume, but your online tracks also give marketers and cybercrooks an excellent means of finding out more about you.

  1. Your passwords say a lot about you.

What’s the most common password used? Nope, it’s not “password.” That one now sits at number eight. Last year’s most-often chosen protector of the digital kingdom was “123456.”  Running close behind, in second place, was “123456789.”

How hard would that be to break?

Computerized password cracking machines are relatively inexpensive and can allow thieves to access your account in seconds. And if you use the same password for multiple accounts, that means one key fits all. Don’t try to be cute with passwords. Be safe. You wouldn’t hand out keys to your home indiscriminately, and you hopefully won’t put a key under the doormat. Passwords pay a huge part in online security. Use them well.

The internet is amazing. You can select goods from all around the globe and have them delivered to your door the next day. Few people want to return to pre-internet days, but most people do want to get rid of the crooks.

About the Author

Bailey Newman is part of the content team at CouponChief.  She likes brisk walking in the morning with her dog Chichi. She loves the smell of nature and can’t imagine a life without it. Having pledged to reduce her environmental impact, she reduces, reuses, and recycles.Bailey can be reached online at bailey@couponchief.com and at our company website https://www.couponchief.com/guides/online_shopping_safety