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online_homespun_9_17RISMEDIA, September 17, 2009—Nearly everyone is using the Internet these days to find information or connect with others. But surfing the Web can still sometimes feel like the Wild West. Despite technological advances to help reduce the risk of identity theft, becoming the victim of an Internet scam or having your privacy invaded is a persistent threat. And, as a number of recent incidents involving social networking websites have shown us, it can even be fatal. 

Keeping your guard up is essential to avoid trouble on the Internet. Here are nine tips to help you stay safe online: 

1. Be careful who you give your information to. Avoid giving out personal information such as your name, address or telephone number on websites until you have read and understand their privacy policy. For example, be on guard for online promotions or contests in which you may be asked to provide details about yourself. This information could be used to market to you in the future. Never give out your Social Security number or passwords online, unless you are certain the site is secure.

2. Don’t reply to spam. Ever get one of those strange, unexpected e-mails for real estate, weight loss, work-at-home or investment opportunities? Your best bet is to delete those e-mails without opening them. Never reply to these e-mails, even to request they remove your name from their lists. Replying will alert the sender that your e-mail is a “live” e-mail attached to an actual person.

3. Use secured websites. Before you purchase a product or service online with a credit card, make sure the connection is secure or encrypted. Look for a small lock icon on the website, or look at the URL address line; a secure connection will begin with https:// (“s” for secured) instead of http://

4. Beware of public wireless access. Don’t send personal or confidential information when using public wireless connections in cafes and other public places. Fellow wireless users could potentially monitor what you are doing from only a few feet away.

5. Think before you post. Avoid revealing personal information or photos on websites such as Facebook, MySpace or SecondLife. Personal or embarrassing information and images can haunt you in years to come when you are applying for college or a new job. If it’s on the Internet, it’s available for a potential employer, your school, a future or current spouse, your mother or grandmother to find.

6. Beware of classified listing meet-ups. When using websites such as Craigslist or Freelist to buy or exchange goods locally, always bring someone you trust with you to meet the seller/buyer. Be cautious about letting strangers into your home or meeting in unsafe places

7. Watch your cookies. Cookies are tidbits of information that websites store on your computer. Some cookies are useful, such as those that store information about you so you don’t have to retype info every time you go to that site. Other cookies are used to track your motions through a website. Some companies keep this data for their own usage- however, some sell your information to other marketers. Be sure to monitor and edit the cookies on your computer.

8. Use anti-spyware. Spyware is sneaky software that rides its way onto computers during the download of screensavers, games, music and other applications. Spyware sends information about what you’re doing on the Internet to a third-party, usually to target you with pop-up ads. Anti-spyware will help block this threat.

9. Monitor your kids’ Internet use. Move computers out of the bedroom and into family space where parents and others can check on your child’s Internet use by simply walking by. Set specific times that your child may surf the Web, and set rules about social media websites, such as Facebook, My Space and Twitter. 

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