Ways to protect yourself from hackers and internet criminals

In the wake of the recent hacker attack at Barnes & Noble, shoppers are more concerned than ever that their personal and private information could end up in the hands of criminals. It's an even bigger concern considering the quickly approaching holiday season when shoppers are doing plenty of online shopping as well as swiping their credit cards with more frequency. Unfortunately, hackers are everywhere, but it's important to know how to protect yourself whether you're shopping online or in stores. While it's up to the stores and websites to ensure the safety of their customers, there are several ways you can help keep yourself safe from criminals who want nothing more than to get their hands on your private information.

Choose excellent passwords

Some make the mistake of using the same passwords for all of their accounts or choosing obvious passwords. There are so many options for ones you can use, don't pick something that's easy to guess. Skip your birthday, phone number, pet name, social security numbers or anything else that could easily be figured out and instead, use a combination of words and numbers and make them all different.

Change your passwords often

Even if you have different passwords for everything, it's still better if you change them often. This will help ensure that all your private information is safe. Change them every few months or more frequently and certainly as soon as you hear about a security breach on a site where you know your password has previously been used.

Keep your antivirus software up to date

You probably have antivirus software on your computer, but is it up to date? Antivirus software helps prevent dangerous software from infecting your computer with a virus. Schedule automatic updates so you make sure you always have the latest version.

Change your security questions

Many security questions are the same from site-to-site, so if you keep using the same ones, it's easy for a hacker to gain access to your accounts once he figures out the answer to a question you frequently use. If possible, skip the given questions and plug in your own.

Stay alert of criminal activity

Whenever there's a security breach, companies will usually send out emails to their customers as soon as they find out. Even if, for some reason, you don't get notification, it's important for you to keep an ear out for any problems. Take immediate action and change your passwords as well as update your information as soon as you hear of an issue.

Be weary of using computers out of your home

Some may not be aware that, if you use a computer at a hotel, library or other location that allows you to use their computers, your information may be readily available for the next person who sits down. There are some who think that they'll automatically be signed out of a web page, but that's not always the case. If you use one of their computers to sign into a website that stores your credit card information and you simply click off the site instead of logging off, there's a chance it could be there again if someone else goes to that site. They then have the ability to easily purchase items on your card without your knowledge.

Review your statements

I make it a habit to check all my credit card and bank activity several times a week to make sure I stay on top of things. However, if you feel that's a little too much, at least do it once a week. When you get your statements, rather than toss them to the side, review them thoroughly to look for strange activity. Report it immediately if you spot anything.

Be weary of what you download

You should always be aware of what you're downloading, but during the holidays some slip and download what they think are cute holiday pictures and e-cards. Always double check to make sure what you're putting onto your computer. If you ever have any doubt, contact the person first to make sure they sent you the attachment and that they got it from a reliable source.

Shop on safe sites

Not all websites have the same safety features, so before you go on a website or order from it, double check that it's safe. To view the safety information, go up to the left side of the address bar of your browser and click on the image of the lock. It'll give you all the info you need about the site's safety.

Despite all the hackers out there, keep in mind that the more precautions you take, the more likely you'll be to avoid them. There's no need to panic; all you have to do is be careful what sites you deal with and what you do with your information and you'll increase the chances that you'll stay safe.

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