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The internet makes many aspects of our lives easier. Whether you want to shop, pay bills or connect with friends, you can do it all from the convenience of your computer.  As with anything else in life, you need to exercise some level of caution when you’re online. If you’re not careful, a scammer or hacker may steal your personal information.  Here are seven ways to stay safe while enjoying your time online.

1. Use security software

The best way to protect your computer from online threats is to use security software from well-known companies or internet providers. The essential tools you need are a firewall, virus/malware protection and file encryption if you plan to keep sensitive documents on your computer. Never buy security software from an unexpected pop-up ad on your computer or email. More than likely, it’s a scam.

2. Let your security software update automatically

Malicious software is always evolving and your computer needs to keep up. Set your security software to update automatically so you’ll always be protected.

3. Look for the “S” in https web addresses

When sharing sensitive information online, always make sure the site is encrypted for your protection. Encrypted sites have “https” at the beginning of the web address. The “S” lets you know a site is secure. The https needs to appear on every page, not just the login screen.

4. Use strong passwords

Many people use the same password for multiple accounts because it’s easy to remember. Big mistake. Every account needs to have its own unique password that’s at least 10 to 12 characters long and contains a mixture of numbers, letters and special characters. Don’t use obvious choices like your name or birthday. Once you’ve made your selection, keep your password a secret.

5. Protect your wireless network

Always make sure your wireless network is password protected. When you leave your Wi-Fi unsecured, anyone within range can connect to your network and steal information from your computer. Criminals can also use your Wi-Fi to send spam or commit crimes and have it traced back to your account.

6. Be careful when using Wi-Fi hotspots

More and more public places are making it easier to surf the web by offering free Wi-Fi hotspots. Although these hotspots are convenient, they’re also risky.  The information you send through mobile apps and websites may be accessed by other people. If you don’t need a password to use the Wi-Fi, it’s probably not safe.

7. Avoid phishing scams

Don’t reply to emails, texts or pop-up messages asking for personal, tax or financial information. Criminals have been impersonating legitimate businesses such as the IRS, tax software providers and financial institutions telling people to update their account information and providing a link. If you click the link, you will be taken to a bogus website and any information you enter will be stolen.  Legitimate companies won’t ask you to share sensitive information through unsecured channels.