The advent of the internet has brought us all manner of benefits. From a huge choice of online entertainment on demand to the ability to buy almost anything we need from anywhere in the world, it has changed our lives beyond recognition. Unfortunately, it has also brought its fair share of problems, too, as dishonest people try to use our browsing against us to steal our bank details, take our money and even assume our identities.

Staying safe online takes a little extra effort, but it is well worth it. In the same way that an opportunist burglar will pass by a house with an alarm and try his luck elsewhere, online thieves will always opt for the softer targets. So, how do you make yourself safe online and discourage such people?

Email Scams

We’ve all had a laugh at the classic “Nigerian prince” style emails that are so fanciful and poorly written that they are obvious fakes. However, not all scam emails are that easy to spot, which is why you should always be on your guard. Never open an attachment or click on a link in an email you weren’t expecting however genuine it appears to be. Banks and utility providers will never ask for your financial details in an email, so even if the scammer has copied their logo and made their message look authentic, you should always contact your provider directly before giving any details. One easy way to spot fake emails is to hover your mouse over the sender’s name. That will often reveal that it has not come from the person or company that you think it has.

Update Your Software

Whether it is your operating system or other software, updates are there for a reason, and often that reason is to plug a hole in their security. You should set your system to take automatic updates and upgrade your operating system regularly. That may not be cheap, but it could cost you far more if you get hacked or someone steals your identity.

The same is true for antivirus software. These systems regularly update to keep pace with the hackers and are your best defense against an attack. Choose an antivirus that comes with regular updates, even if that costs you a monthly fee, and set your system to take these automatically.

Be Careful Where You Shop

Online shopping is quick and convenient and avoids all the hassle of parking in town and fighting through the crowds. However, it is also open to abuse from unsavory characters. Never give your bank or card details to a site that you don’t trust completely and try to avoid giving them at all as much as possible. Always look for web addresses that start with “https” rather than only “http,” as the “s” gives you the added security of online encryption. Of course, you don’t have to use your credit or debit cards at all, as most online shops and will take alternative payment methods. Even your favorite sites such as online casinos accept NETELLER and PayPal. And by using these systems, you protect yourself from fraud because the company will never have access to your personal details.

Use Better Passwords

The biggest protection you have online are your passwords, so make sure they are as strong as possible. Use long passwords that combine numbers, letters and symbols and avoid anything that someone who follows you on social media could guess about you. Always change default passwords or temporary passwords as soon as you can and make a point of overhauling all your passwords every few months. It may make life a little more complicated but try to use a different password for each site you use. Don’t worry: there are several different ways to store your passwords securely so that you don’t have to remember them all. You can always set auto-fill on your home machine, but never save passwords on a public computer or even your work machine, as this could give other people access to your accounts.

Common Sense Precautions

At the end of the day, if you think about your online life in the same way as your real life, then you won’t go far wrong. After all, you wouldn’t let anyone into your home, you wouldn’t trust a stranger with your credit card, you wouldn’t hand over money to a salesperson you didn’t know, and you wouldn’t leave the key in your front door. When you think about it like that, most online security is common sense.