8 Tips for Avoiding Internet Scams

The internet is no place for the naive. Scams and swindles of a wide variety proliferate, and every year millions of dollars are nabbed by unscrupulous con artists. Still, there is no reason for the average internet user to despair. Common sense and an awareness of how the most popular cons operate will provide enough protection. Keep yourself safe by checking out the following eight tips for avoiding internet scams.

Practice password (and PIN) safety

Your passwords will always be your online data's best layer of protection. A weak password is a needless risk; make all your passwords tough to crack by using at least eight characters and a mix of special characters, numbers, and upper- and lowercase letters. Avoid passwords that incorporate your name or any other easily obtainable information. Similarly, if a site asks you to set a secret password reset question, choose something that only you would know. Don't ever store passwords on your computer (memorize them instead). Use different passwords for different sites, so as to minimize the damage done if a password is stolen. Periodically change all your passwords. And, of course, don't reveal your passwords to anyone -- especially not online.

Keep your computer itself safe

Scammers love stealthily infiltrating a personal computer, from where they can harvest personal financial data. Since malware such as keyloggers and spyware can operate inside a computer without the owner ever knowing, the best defense is to install (and keep up-to-date) a quality antivirus application. Good antivirus software should stop almost all malware in its tracks. Internet browser and operating system updates (both of which come with security fixes) should also be regularly installed.

Watch for suspicious emails

Emails cons are one the most common internet scams. There are a few basic rules to know for safe email usage. First, remember that your credit card company or bank will never contact you via email asking for your account information or password. Any unsolicited email requesting important data is likely a scam. If a strange or suspicious email arrives in your inbox, avoid opening it, and definitely do not follow any links or open any attachments it might contain. Emails asking you to follow a link to reset a password, verify data, or login are always tricks. Remember to be a little cynical -- an email from a charity you've never contacted might be a con designed to take advantage of the well intentioned.

Be careful on public wifi

Shopping, accessing your bank account, or inputting vital information of any sort over public wifi is not a good idea. The issue is that public wifi is oftentimes unsecured, making it prime hunting ground for the dishonest. Since there is no simple way to be sure that a particular public wifi hotspot is protected or not, stay safe by waiting until you're home.

Let your browser help

Modern internet browsers come pre-equipped with numerous anti-scam features. Understanding and making use of these features is smart. For example, the latest versions of every major browser will contain an up-to-date database of dangerous websites -- so, if your browser warns you when you try to visit a particular site, pay attention.

Don't trust pop-up 'warnings'

Today, it is common for internet users to encounter pop-up boxes warning that their computer is infected or has been breached. These pop-ups are designed to imitate genuine antivirus software -- but what they actually do is install malware themselves. Keep your computer and personal data safe from 'scareware' by closing any such pop-ups as soon as they show up. If it won't close, escape from trouble by quitting out of your web browser entirely.

Don't trust people asking for money

Sadly, many people who go to the internet looking for love (or friendship) end up getting bilked out of their savings. Don't let this happen to you. If, for example, someone you've met on a dating site starts asking for money, be very suspicious. Similarly, don't automatically believe tales of woe that end with pleas for donations. Only trust claims that can be verified in some way.

If it's too good to be true... it probably is

This old saying has a lot of truth to it. Many online scams operate by preying on the human desire to have something for nothing. Simply keeping your wits about you will go a long way towards protecting from most internet scams. Slow down for a minute and make sure you aren't about to be tricked.

No one deserves to get fleeced by a con man. Luckily, despite the internet being rife with criminals, there's no need to surf with fear. Virtually all scams are actually easy to avoid, as long as one knows what to do. Follow the eight rules described in this article and you will be safe.